Sean O'Grady: Quango cuts may well cost more than they save

Share
Related Topics

As bonfires go, this one is a little less fiery and accompanied by a rather less spectacular display of fireworks than you might have thought, listening to the soaring, boastful rhetoric of ministers and the squeals of anguish from the quangos being roasted alive. More of a damp squib really.

First, many of the bodies being abolished are already ghostly leftovers with no staff, budgets or executive functions. It's very good of Mr Maude to go round Whitehall tidying up like a housemaid, but the effort and money expended cleaning out the cupboard may exceed savings. British Shipbuilders, for example, once a controversial and powerful instrument of state socialism, was long ago wound up operationally, and exists in name only. Like the Norwegian Blue, this is a quango that has already ceased to be. It is not even resting.

Second, savings will also be far less than first appears because the quangos' functions, and staffing and spending, will be transferred to Whitehall. Take the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Even if its entire £2m budget were saved, you have to set that against the £700bn total of public spending this year. And someone somewhere will still have to rule on stem cell research and be paid to do so. Meanwhile, the one benefit of a quango – its arm's-length relationship with government (itself a valuable asset in moral quagmires such as this) – is lost.

Third, there is an enormous risk that, in the rush, valuable assets – property, intellectual rights, land – will be mislaid or inadvertently transferred into the ownership of a few lucky individuals.

When Gordon Brown was chancellor he undertook the "Doomsday 2" exercise, which unearthed about £300bn in hidden state assets, many under the aegis of quangos. We have to be sure, for example, that the £300m of Lottery (ie public) money, that funds the National Endowment for Science and the the Arts will be protected when it is turned into a charitable trust; the same goes for the assets of British Waterways, when it turns into a National Trust-style charity. Who will own these assets? Will they be safe from carpetbaggers?

Past experience suggests that hurried exercises such as this – railway privatisation springs to mind – can leave lucrative opportunities for beady-eyed City types.

We might also ask what happens if, say, British Waterways cannot survive as a charity; even charitable bodies have to cover their costs.

In some cases, the state may end up having to renationalise the ex-quangos, which would be like getting singed by your own bonfire.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss