Quangos fall to the cull but their costs just rise and rise

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The cull of the quango, a long standing feature of government policy, has been successful in reducing the number of public bodies but has failed to limit their expenditure, with Government spending on them increasing sixfold since 1979.

Figures issued yesterday by the Cabinet Office show that there were 1,194 "non-departmental bodies" (NDPBs) on 1 April, 33 fewer than a year previously. In fact, 96 quangos were abolished, while 63 were created.

So farewell the Physical Activity Task Force, the Nutrition Task Force, the Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committee, Going for Green and the National Breastfeeding Working Group. Several new town development corporations, the seven river purification boards and the London Residuary Body, which dealt with the remains of both the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority have also been axed.

Despite the Government's reluctance to create any new bodies, enter the Local Government Residuary Body, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action, the Scottish Water and Sewerage Customers' Council, Volunteering Partnership and the Pensions Ombudsman.

All bodies are subject to a review of their relevance every five years but this does not prevent the continued survival of bizarre sounding bodies, ranging from the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, which spent pounds 1.44m last year, the Wine Standards Board of the Vintners' Company, which spent pounds 456,000, and the Secretary of State for Scotland's (Electricity) Fisheries Committee which has six members and spends pounds 3,000 per year.

The trend has been that advisory bodies, which spend little, have been axed but executive bodies, which have staff and spending powers, have increased their expenditure. Therefore, while the number of NDPBs has fallen from 2,197 in 1979 to 1,194 this year, spending on them has increased from pounds 3bn to pounds 18bn over that period.

The definition of what bodies are included in the report is controversial. While quangos have proliferated in education and health, such as hospital trusts and grant-maintained schools, the Government does not include the 429 hospital trusts or the 100 health authorities because these are local bodies with no national interest.

One area where the Government's policy appears to have been partly successful is in the increase in appointments of ethnic minorities and women to quango boards, promised by John Major in 1991. Of more than 40,000 board members, 31 per cent are women and 3.3 per cent from ethnic minorities, compared with 23 per cent and 2 per cent five years ago. The department with the best record on gender is the Home Office, with women comprising 41 per cent of its 1,300 appointments.The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries manages just 9 per cent of women from its 1,400 appointments.

The document shows that many chief executives of these bodies earn more than pounds 100,000 a year. Andrew Foster, the controller of the Audit Commission, which oversees the spending of local councils and the health service in England and Wales, is paid pounds 140,841 a year while the chief executive of English Partnerships earns pounds 126,000. Other chief executives on six figure salaries include those heading the London Docklands Development Corporation (pounds 112,901) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (pounds 108,080).

t Public Bodies 1996; Stationery Office, pounds 14 50