192 quangos to be scrapped

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A total of 192 quangos are to be scrapped under plans set out today by the Government.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said a further 118 bodies would be merged and another 171 "substantially" reformed in the long-awaited "bonfire of the quangos".

Mr Maude said the changes would usher in a "new era of accountability" in government.

In all, the total number of quangos will be cut from 901 to 648, with the future of 40 bodies still under consideration.

"We know that for a long time there has been a huge hunger for change," Mr Maude said.

"People have been fed-up with the old way of doing business, where the ministers they voted for could often avoid taking responsibility for difficult and tough decisions by creating or hiding behind one of these quangos.

"Today's announcement means that many important and essential functions will be brought back into departments, meaning the line of accountability will run right up to the very top, where it always should have been."

Among the bodies to be axed are the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, the Renewable Fuels Agency and the Appointments Commission, which will all have their functions taken on by Government departments.

Enabling organisations such as the Design Council and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts will be turned into charities, while the work of the development corporations will be turned over to local government.

The mergers - which will see 118 bodies reduced to 57 - include the amalgamation of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission into a single competition and market authority.

Bodies facing major reform include the Environment Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency, which will have their work "streamlined".

Mr Maude said he would be introducing a Public Bodies Bill to implement the changes.

The figures released today include the abolition of a number of quangos which had already been announced, the regional development agencies and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.

Union leaders described the abolition of public bodies as "short-sighted, undemocratic and a waste of public funds."

Paul Noon, general secretary of civil service union Prospect described the Government's mechanism for implementing its programme - the Public Bodies Reform Bill - as "a legislative hammer to smash public bodies which are doing valuable work in the public interest."

He warned: "This is more than a quango cull, it's a massacre of the innocents. In many cases the Government is abolishing bodies that cost peanuts but provide invaluable scientific or other expert advice to government.

"In other cases the costs of closure are greater than their running costs, or closure runs directly counter to the Prime Minister's call for a big society.

"Much of this smacks of tokenism but where bodies perform essential functions in the public interest for the environment, health or heritage they must be maintained in some form."

The union condemned the fact that many announcements had been made with "little or no consultation" with experts and users.

Some union officials complained that workers in quangos affected by today's announcement had not been told anything official but were learning information affecting their future employment from the media.

ony Woodley, joint leader of the Unite union, said: "The fact that Francis Maude is unable to say how much will be saved and how many jobs will be affected by this cull shows the threadbare nature of the thinking behind these abolition plans.

"There has been little or no consultation on these proposals from this 'We are all in this together' Government. In many areas of the economy and social policy, quangos are important in protecting the economically vulnerable, the put-upon consumer and acting as economic generators.

"For example, the Agricultural Wages Board protects hundreds of thousands of rural workers from wage poverty, Consumer Focus helps redress the imbalance between the individual consumer and the power of the utility companies, and the regional development agencies bring money to the regions to kick-start the much-needed drive for economic growth and the accompanying extra jobs.

"Unite, along with other trade unions, voluntary organisations and consumer groups, will be leading the opposition to the threatened job losses and raising pertinent questions as to why certain quangos are being cut."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Of course over time some quangos come to the end of their useful life, just as new ones are needed.

"But today's quango cull is neither about efficiency or even saving money as ministers seem very vague about the finances, despite the job losses involved.

"Instead they want to reduce democratic accountability, get rid of bodies that stand up for ordinary people against Government or business excess, and centralise power in Whitehall.

"When independent bodies give public advice to ministers, they have to explain why if they reject it. With no independence and no transparency, corporate lobbyists will be cracking open the champagne today.

"The politics is simple. Today's move manages to both shrink the state and reduce its democratic accountability."

Downing Street acknowledged that making the changes would take "some time".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said it was expected that they would bring financial savings, although the Government has yet to put a figure on them.

"We would expect there to be savings in future years. That will be driven through as part of the spending review," the spokesman said.

"The reality of making these massive changes to government and implementing them is going to take some time."

The GMB union warned that the public would be put at risk by the abolition of the Security Industry Authority as a public body.

The Government announced that the authority, which licenses security companies and security staff and maintains standards in the industry, will no longer be a non-departmental public body, but there will be a phased transition to a new regulatory regime.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "It is important to remember that licensing in the security industry was brought in to keep out crooks, drug dealers and those convicted of criminal assaults to protect the public and create decent standards in the industry. The change of Government has not removed the risks to the public.

"Abolishing the Security Industry Authority is wrong. It will hit decent employers, it will expose the public to unnecessary risks and will undoubtedly end in tears and in the courts.

"Is the Government saying that it is OK for crooks, drug dealers and those convicted of criminal assaults to set up and run security companies?"

Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: "We welcome the abolition of unnecessary quangos and are pleased to see the Government bringing functions back into departments that should never have left.

"The previous government was too keen on delegating policy-making to bodies outside government departments. This created an ambiguity about where responsibility for policy-making resided, a problem that hasn't gone away.

"The Government now needs to ensure that eliminating and reforming quangos is just the beginning of a wider process of moving to a smaller state.

"Trimming extraneous public bodies is absolutely right, but we also need the Government to carry out a fundamental root-and- branch analysis of all areas of public spending."

The Fawcett Society criticised the Government's decision to abolish the Women's National Commission (WNC), saying it was "key" to ensuring ministers heard the voices of women across the UK.

Anna Bird, head of Policy and Campaigns at the Fawcett Society said: "The abolition of the WNC will make it that much harder for government to devise informed policy that reflects the unique position of women in the UK. This decision also gives a clear indicator of the priority the new coalition attaches to furthering equality in the UK.

"When times are tight it becomes more, not less important to ensure the vulnerable in our society are supported. We call on the Government to ensure that in abolishing the WNC, they don't also lose the unique things the WNC did - in particular, providing a dialogue between government and women to directly influence government policy."