Leading article: Quangos: efficiency or ideology?

Share
Related Topics

A quango sounds like a monstrous beast conjured from the imagination of Lewis Carroll. There is something inherently preposterous about the very word. No wonder the public love the idea of the culling these quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations and their hordes of politically correct bureaucrats. Until, that is, you ask whether it is a good idea to keep politics out of issues better decided by experts – like whether a new drug is value-for-money for the NHS. Or to keep politicians away from matters that require impartiality – like the news values of the BBC, one of the most precious quangos on the British national landscape. Some of the things that quangos do suddenly seem rather a good idea.

The Government said at first that abolishing quangos would save hundreds of millions. But then the Institute for Government suggested otherwise. Some functions would have to be taken into government departments. There would be big costs in redundancy, relocation, retraining and recruitment. The Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, announcing the end of one in four quangos yesterday, tried to insist that the changes were not about saving money but promoting accountability by removing decisions from unelected officials and restoring them to ministers. He set out three criteria to distinguish a good quango from a bad one. They must perform a technical function; deal with something that requires political impartiality; or need to act independently to establish facts. Those are sound theoretically, but the dissolution of the quangos is already throwing up some muddling practicalities.

Some of these changes are to be applauded. The Food Standards Agency has failed to protect consumers from the lobbying of big business. Others, like the Children's Commissioner, seem to have been set up in response to the cry that "something must be done" rather than discharging a need for practical change. Some, like the Design Council, will be better off turned into charities.

But it is hard to see what will be gained from scrapping the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – which is funded by users not taxpayers – and which has been an effective watchdog. And how will local trading standards offices have the clout to tackle cavalier treatment by big banks when they inherit responsibilities from the Office of Fair Trading? Babies and bathwater come to mind. Reform of the quangos must be judicious rather than headline-chasing. Otherwise many will suspect that ideology rather than efficiency is the Government's true motivation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Analyst - London - £38,000

£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Prime Minister’s Questions: Yah Miliband versus Boo Cameron

John Rentoul
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Zoella is a great role model - she changed my life

Vicky Chandler
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London