A report by six leading constitutional experts, which will be released tomorrow, tracks down every quango in the country and warns that 'the essential democratic underpinnings of scrutiny, accountability and openness' are under threat.
The power of quango members - who run NHS trusts, opted-out schools and Training and Enterprise Councils, and control dozens of other areas of public life - now rivals that of elected local government in Britain, it says.
There are 73,000 'quangocrats', appointed by Whitehall and largely Conservative in politics; about 60,000 of them run local services. They outnumber the 25,000 elected local councillors by three to one.
'There has been a vast expansion of extra-government organisations wielding far greater powers over everyday life in Britain and spending far more public money than ever before,' concludes the report by the group, Democratic Audit.
The majority of quangos cannot be investigated by ombudsmen or audited by the National Audit Office. The public cannot see their papers, attend their meetings or study registers of members' interests.
The study identified 5,521 government quangos (one for every 10,000 people in the country) operating in Britain in 1993. They cost the taxpayer pounds 46.6bn - 30 per cent of all public spending. The number of quangos discovered, and their cost, is far higher than even Labour and Liberal Democrat critics had assumed.
The report will be discussed by MPs at a meeting in the Commons on Wednesday and will be given as evidence to the all-party Treasury Select Committee inquiry into the future of the Civil Service.
Opposition politicians said yesterday that the report exposed the ''astonishing' power of the new breed of agencies appointed by ministers and answerable only to ministers.
Michael Meacher, Labour's spokesman on the Civil Service, said: 'What the study reveals is that the Government's creatures are now overriding and ignoring local wishes. Democratic local government is being dismembered and replaced by quangos staffed by men and women completely unknown to local people.'
He said Labour would democratise local decision-making and not simply replace Tory quangos with Labour ones. Quangos were 'outlaw agencies', which could ignore legal, audit and democratic controls.
Robert Maclennan, Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, added: 'The Conservatives have created a second state to rule Britain. There is now an urgent need for massive reform.'
Government ministers have argued that what matters is the quality of services quangos provide, not whether their members are elected or not.
Quangoland, page 9
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