Abolition is one of a range of options being examined by a special steering group set up by William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister responsible for the Civil Service, to look into the organisation's future. Others include privatisation through a trade sale or stock market flotation and contracting out its products and services, Mr Waldegrave told the Commons Treasury and Civil Service sub-committee yesterday.
The HMSO was established in 1786 as an office equipment supplier to the government. Today, it is one of the biggest printers in the world, publishing 10,000 titles a year, including the best-selling Highway Code and Hansard. Government offices receive everything from envelopes to ball-point pens, paper clips and lavatory paper from HMSO.
The HMSO employs more than 3,000 people nation-wide, in printing plants, distribution centres, six bookshops and its Norwich headquarters. Last year, the agency had a turnover of pounds 388m and made profits of pounds 6.9m. Its future last came under scrutiny in 1988, when it was cut loose from Whitehall and set up as the Government's third independent agency, paying its own way. Privatisation is believed to have been ruled out on that occasion.
The steering group, which was set up in May, is being headed by the HMSO's deputy chief executive and comprises officials from Mr Waldegrave's department.
John Garrett, the Labour MP for Norwich South, asked whether the agency was the Government's to abolish: 'Is it not Her Majesty's?' Mr Waldegrave replied that he thought it was up to Parliament to decide the HMSO's function and whether it was no longer needed.Reuse content