Letter: Make quangos accountable

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The Independent Online
Geoffrey Lean makes a strong case for setting up a food safety agency ("BSE: a scandal that won't go away", 4 August). But we also need to ensure that government advisers are truly independent.

Policy formulation in this country, regardless of its subject matter, is deeply influenced by unaccountable private interests. This is most notable when examining the work of quangos, such as the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which are as secretive and clubby as Whitehall itself. Ministers and civil servants select their members. They are often dominated by representatives of the industries making or profiting from the products under scrutiny. They meet in secret, do not disclose evidence, and advise ministers secretly. It is time these advisory bodies were independent, open and accountable.

To achieve this we need a framework of public law. This could take inspiration from the US "Sunshine Acts" that were passed post-war. This legislation was designed to guarantee the independence of membership of advisory bodies, prevent their "capture" by private interests and establish a public right of access to their meetings and their information through a Freedom of Information Act. Such a framework could provide the necessary level of accountability to ensure the state acts in our best interests.

Anna Killick

Charter 88, London EC1