Labour ponders bonfire of the quangocrats

The party is divided over what it would do about 73,000 Tory appointees , reports Nick Cohen

THE LABOUR Party is divided over whether a future Labour government should try to dismantle the huge network of quangos created by the Conservatives, or keep it but replace the mainly Tory "quangocrats" with Labour supporters.

The argument is being fought out in a special committee set up by Tony Blair to determine how to deal with the quango phenomenon - 73,000 ministerial appointees on 5,000 unelected bodies which control one- third of public expenditure.

The committee is headed by Derek Foster, Labour's former chief whip, and includes Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, Tony Wright, the MP for Cannock and Burntwood, and a representative from Mr Blair's office. There have already been arguments about whether Labour should prepare a list of 3,000 supporters who could be dropped into quango jobs if the party wins election.

After years in the wilderness, many older MPs cannot see why their supporters should not be given a taste of power; but opponents of dumping Conservative placemen for Labour ones want new systems which allow openness and devolution.

"There are tensions between old Labour and new Labour," said one moderniser. "We want to deliver a radical system which will show people we can govern in a new way."

Neither side knows which line the Labour leadership will support and the party has yet to develop a consistent policy. But one senior Labour frontbencher said yesterday that Labour could not "spend years complaining about Tories packing quangos and then pack them ourselves. It would be preposterous and wrong".

The party is working on plans to introduce some democracy to the NHS, further-education colleges and training and enterprise councils. In the long term these changes will inevitably mean that thousands of Whitehall appointees will lose their posts to elected representatives and candidates nominated by Labour ministers.

The scale of the slow purge Labour may have to contemplate is glimpsed in a confidential report on quangos commissioned by Lord Nolan's inquiry into standards in public life, which has been seen by this newspaper. It examines 10 of the most powerful quangos in Britain and concludes that most of them have excessive numbers of Tory appointees or have been "captured" by interest groups sympathetic to the Conservatives.

"Labour faces a huge dilemma," said Stuart Weir of Essex University, one of the Nolan report's authors. "The Conservatives have been able to pack the system. The temptation will be for Labour to do the same and ignore looking at new ways of making everything from the Imperial War Museum to the NHS accountable."

The report warned that "serious imbalances" and "confusion in lines of accountability" can be found in most of the quangos its researchers studied.

At the Equal Opportunities Commission, which takes legal action to defend victims of sex discrimination, the chairwoman is Kamlesh Bahl, a former Conservative activist and solicitor, who was chosen for the job by John Major. Her predecessor was Joanna Foster, a former press officer at Conservative Central Office who, despite her political past, became a thorn in the Government's side.

Ms Bahl's deputy is Lady Diana Brittan, wife of Sir Leon Brittan, the Conservative European Commissioner. There are three trade unionists on the EOC. But the first men to have been appointed to what was originally a body which concentrated on discrimination against women, were both members of the strongly free-market Institute of Directors.

Ms Bahl has faced strong oppostion from liberal staff for "being afraid to rock the boat" and arguing that equality at work makes good business sense rather than fighting for it as a human right. Despite the accusations of her critics, however, Ms Bahl has supported a minimum wage and opposed ministers when she backed European moves to protect part-time women workers.

Clearer evidence of political imbalance can be found in the Funding Agency for Schools, which, if the Conservatives win the next election and force all schools to opt out, will control standards in every classroom.

The agency showed, said the report to Lord Nolan, that "a new breed of great and good" had arisen in the Conservative years. The best qualification for membership was to be "a businessman with Conservative leanings".

The agency's chairman is Sir Christopher Benson, who is associated with the Sun Alliance group and other companies which have donated to the Conservative party. On its board are: Sir Stanley Kalms, chairman of Dixons, who was knighted in the New Year's Honours List and whose company donates to the Conservative party; Sir Robert Balchrin, a former regional Conservative party chairman; Edward Lister, a Conservative councillor from Conservative- controlled Wandsworth council in south London; and Pauline Latham, a Conservative activist.

One Shadow Cabinet member said it was "inconceivable" that a Labour government could work with the agency.

Along with several other quangos that the investigation studied, it was impossible to find any member of the agency with a Labour or Liberal Democrat background, the inquiry said.

It highlighted the small pool from which quangocrats are drawn by studying the relationship between Sir Colin Campbell, vice-chancellor of Nottingham University, and Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire.

In 1988, Mr Clarke was Health Secretary, Sir Colin was appointed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. When Mr Clarke became Education Secretary in 1990, Sir Colin was put on the Higher Education Funding Council. He moved to the Inquiry into Police Responsibilities and Rewards in 1992 when Mr Clarke became Home Secretary.

"Admiration between the two men seemed to be mutual," said the report, "for Clarke was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Nottingham in 1989." The authors did not suggest that there was anything improper in the links, but the long connection did "illustrate how narrowly the net for public appointments can be cast".

When Lord Nolan reported last year, he recommended that a new commissioner should be appointed to draft rules about appointments to public jobs.

In August he announced that he would extend his sleaze investigation to cover universities and further-education bodies, grant-maintained schools, training and enterprise councils, and housing associations after receiving hundreds of complaints from the public. The new inquiry will decide whether to tackle the central problem of controlling quangos: finding out who is on them. It will decide whether to set up a central register of quangocrats detailing their financial, political and family interests.

Labour is committed to implementing Nolan recommendations and emphasises that this will place some limits on its ability to manipulate the patronage system. It adds that in the NHS it has also promised to break away from the old system of Whitehall patronage by encouraging doctors, patients and local authority representatives to have a say in health policy at local level. Plans are still vague, but it seems likely to recommend that elected representatives should have a say in the purchase of local health services.

Training and enterprise councils (Tecs), which are dominated by a self- perpetuating group of middle-aged businessmen who fill vacancies without any democratic control, seem certain to go. One senior Labour source described the Tecs, which spend pounds 2bn a year, as "absurd bodies which will have to be sorted out".

Further education, which was removed from local-authority control in the 1980s, will also see the return of elected representatives.

But Labour leaders will warn their supporters not to expect the mass sacking of Conservative quangocrats in the early days of a Labour government.

Quango members had legal contracts and "unless they were caught with their hands in the till" it was very hard to clear them out overnight, said one. Labour plans reform, and introducing some element of democracy would be for the medium term and require legislation.

In the interim the party would just have to live with the present system. "It may not be too difficult," the Shadow Cabinet member added. "We're already seeing people we thought were devout Tory officials coming over and brown-nosing. I suspect there will be a lot more of that."

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution