Quangos spent £414m in one town

The growing and pervasive influence of quangos on British life is starkly highlighted by a case study published yesterday dissecting spending in a single town, Milton Keynes.

It shows non-elected public-service bodies running health, housing, education and leisure spend £414.59m a year without public accountability. The figures cover the last full accounts available, for the financial year ended March 1994.

National quango spending was estimated at £46bn last year in a report for Demos, a think-tank. The Milton Keynes report, which lists members, salaries, addresses and details of meetings of 12 quangos, was compiled by the Liberal Democrats.

One housing association has no tenants on its board, while a family health authority refused to confirm its chairwoman's salary. Her predecessor earned £11,720 for two days work a week.

Health, which used to be partly run by elected councillors, takes the biggest slice of the cake: Buckinghamshire Health Authority and Buckinghamshire Family Health Authority, which will merge next year, spent £292m between them. The Two Shires Ambulance Trust spent £10.3m. Members of these quangos are appointed by the Secretary of State for Health "for the personal contribution they can make". Non-executive members are paid up to £5,000 a year and the chairman gets between £10,000 and £20,000 a year for a notional two days a week. Some meetings are open to the public.

Only the largest of several housing associations is listed, the Milton Keynes Housing Association, which spent £5.2m. Members are not paid, except representatives from the council, who are entitled to claim £20.50 per meeting plus travelling expenses. There is no right of access to meetings or information, but annual accounts have to be submitted to the Housing Corporation, a national quango. The Milton Keynes Parks Trust, not strictly a quango, is a charity which spends £2.4m a year on open spaces. Meetings are held in private, although it does include board members nominated by local councils.

Milton Keynes, which until 1992 was partly administered, like other new towns, by a development corporation, still has a local office of the Commission for New Towns. This central government agency responsible for disposing of corporation assets has 13 directors, mostly paid between £5,000 and £10,000 a year, but one is paid between £45,000 and £50,000. It is accountable to Parliament through the Department of the Environment, and its local office had receipts of £34m last year.

The list includes four grant-maintained schools, which each spend between £2m and £4m a year. The governors are unpaid and normally meet in private but publish minutes of non-controversial parts of meetings. Parents are on the boards of governors.

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