Quangos braced for cutbacks as Tories wield axe

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Indy Politics

Schools, health and planning bodies will be first in the firing-line as the Government launches a drive to slash billions of pounds from spending.

As George Osborne prepares to announce savings of £6bn next week, detailed plans to abolish a series of public bodies are also being drawn up by ministers.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, looks certain to scrap the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority, which oversees the national curriculum, and BECTA, a government-funded agency which advises schools on new technology.

Ministers believe much of the work of the QCDA could be transferred to civil servants now that its regulatory role has been transferred to exam standards watchdog, Ofqual.

The QCDA’s chief executive, Andrew Hall, has already quit to become head of the country’s biggest exam board, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance. It is understood there are no plans to replace him.

The new government also believes schools can seek their own advice on technology rather than rely on BECTA, whose chief executive Stephen Crowne overseas a budget of £112.5m a year.

A quango which only came into operation last October will also be abolished within months.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission was created to streamline the planning process to enable major projects, such as nuclear power stations and high-speed rail links, to get approval more quickly.

The new Government believes the body, which has an annual budget of £9.3m and 40 staff, is undemocratic. It promises to replace it with an accountable, fast-track planning system.

It has also pledged to “significantly cut” the number and cost of health quangos. One organisation that looks doomed after being singled out in opposition by both parties was NHS Connecting for Health, which is in charge of creating a centralised database of patients’ records.

The earliest cuts to quangos could come within days, with two regional development agencies likely to be scrapped.

Vince Cable, the new Business Secretary, has said it is hard to justify the existence of the South East Economic Development Agency (SEEDA) and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) because of the prosperity of the regions they represent.

SEEDA, which is based in Guildford, had a budget of £107m and employs 270 staff, while EEDA, which is based in Cambridgeshire, has a budget of £103m and employs 228 staff.

The likelihood is that the two bodies – each of which protested last night over the threat to their future - will have their budgets trimmed and eventually be phased out.

Dr Cable is expected to axe the Skills Funding Agency, which only came into operation last year and employs 1,200 staff in Coventry, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

They would be merged into a single Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education under plans being drawn up by his officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Several other education quangos – including the Training and Development Agency, responsible for teacher training and recruitment – face seeing their budgets severely pruned as ministers believe more teachers should be trained on the job in the classroom.

The Young People’s Learning Agency, which was only set up on April 1, could also be vulnerable. It is responsible for funding skills courses for youngsters over the age of 16 and academies – which again could be transferred to civil servants.

In addition, Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, is facing a major review of how it operates.

Under Labour, it was given additional responsibilities for looking at children’s wellbeing and a host of other children’s services functions – such as fostering.

Nick Herbert, the new Police Minister, this week warned that the National Police Improvement Agency, which has a budget of £500m, faces cuts.

He has said the Home Office would act against the “bodies that get in the way of what police professionals want to do, that make life harder and more expensive”.

There are also question-marks over the future of several energy quangos amid accusations that they duplicate each other’s work. But Ofcom, the communications industry regulator set up by the Blair government, is likely to escape the axe, but to be stripped of many of its powers.

There are an estimated 790 quangos in Britain, ranging from major employers such as the Environment Agency to little-known committees such as the Home Grown Cereals Authority.

Spending on the major quangos is about £35bn. In their manifesto, the Conservatives estimated that the bill could be cut by £1bn.

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