Tory-appointed quango chiefs line up to resign

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The sudden resignation of the heads of two official quangos

is expected to mark the start of a war of attrition between the Government and the semi-official bodies that became an instrument of Tory ministers.

It was revealed yesterday that Sir Donald McKay had resigned as chairman of Scottish Enterprise after a meeting with the new Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar.

Lord MacLaurin, the former Tesco chairman, resigned as chairman of the Sports Council earlier this week, and it is now expected that a number of high-profile quango bosses will now accept the inevitable and volunteer to go.

Tony Blair told the Commons at the start of the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday: "A Britain that is young of mind and confident of its future must change a situation in which unelected quangos spend more money than elected local government."

Citing the power of quangos and foreign donations to the Conservative Party as examples of political sleaze, the Prime Minister warned: "We will clean up politics and restore faith in our public life."

At the latest count, there were 1,194 quangos, officially defined as non-departmental executive bodies, although the acronym stands for quasi- autonomous non-governmental organisations, with an overall government- funded budget of almost pounds 18bn in 1996.

The Labour manifesto said local decision-making should be less constrained by central government and more accountable to local people - which quangos are not.

It also said: "The Conservatives have created a tier of regional government in England through quangos and government regional offices. Meanwhile, local authorities have come together to create a more co-ordinated regional voice."

Labour plans to create regionally-elected authorities that would take over the co-ordination of transport, planning, economic development, land- use planning and bids for European funding.

Although John Redwood, one of the contenders for the the Tory leadership, said on Tuesday that he opposed the creation of English regional development bodies, he also said: "The Government should bring forward a Bill to transfer powers and money from quangos to local government."