Unelected bodies creating 'crisis of accountability'

A NON-ELECTED elite is taking control of many services, producing a crisis of accountability, a leading academic said yesterday.

The quangos created in education, health, housing and social services - often the result of market mechanisms being introduced - are turning the clock back 100 years to the 1880s, before control of local services was transferred from magistrates to elected authorities, according to John Stewart, Professor of Public Policy at Birmingham University.

In a paper for the European Policy Forum, a market studies think-tank, he says: 'A new magistracy is being created in the sense that a non-elected elite is assuming responsibility for a large part of local governance.

'They are found on the boards of health authorities and hospital trusts, Training and Enterprise Councils, the board of governors of grant-maintained schools, the governing bodies of colleges of further education and Housing Action Trusts.

'There is no sense in which those appointed can be regarded as locally accountable. Indeed the membership of these bodies is largely unknown locally. Nor are they necessarily subject to the same requirements for open meetings, access to information and external scrutiny that local authorities are subject to.

'Accountability, such as it is, rests upon the accountability of these bodies to central government, although even that appears uncertain in the case of governing bodies of, for example, hospital trusts and grant-maintained schools.'

The result is to place 'an ever increasing burden' on a single line of accountability to ministers and through them to Parliament - a burden Professor Stewart says ministers are unlikely to accept. Indeed, his warning comes as MPs are complaining that the growing number of agencies is making ministers less accountable to Parliament as ministers say figures are not held centrally, or that questions should be referred direct to the quangos.

Professor Stewart argues that it is difficult enough to expect ministers to accept responsibility for the acts of civil servants. The burden of being properly accountable for an increasing range of local services is 'probably beyond their capacity to bear', he says.

Market accountability and contracting cannot alone replace public accountability, as there are difficulties over access to information and for many services there are in practice no individual customers, only unaccountable purchasing and contracting bodies.

As the number of agencies grows, no one has responsibility for co-ordinating their actions, while even within well-defined areas such as schools, the latest plans will see six different bodies running different types of school.

The 'crisis of accountability' means that when children fail to obtain school places, or people are not consulted over issues, or an institution fails 'it is not clear who should be held responsible'.

The growth in appointed bodies has paralleled the weakening of local government as an increasing range of responsibilities have been removed to non-elected agencies and organisations. But a simple return of power to local authorities, who have tended to limit their accountability to periodic elections, is not enough.

To re-create accountability, Professor Stewart suggests strengthening links between agencies and councils; having more elected members; introducing freedom of information laws both nationally and locally; creating a right to be informed and heard as part of a Bill of Rights; and more monitoring of public action.

Accountability to the Public; European Policy Forum, 20 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AA; pounds 5.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments