Bonfire of the Quangos – very small blaze, no-one hurt

Can't say we're surprised at the report of the UK parliament's Public Administration Committee which issued an unusually hard hitting report last week covering the coalition government's 'bonfire of the quangos' - the move to reduce the number of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) as they are officially called.

This was presented initially (particularly by the Tories during the election campaign) as largely a cost saving measure; then when it became clear that savings were hard to find, it was re-positioned as being 'all about accountability'.  Now this committee, which is cross-party and actually chaired by a Conservative MP, has issued a strong report saying that the whole exercise was badly handled.

We questioned right back when the first announcements were made whether savings were real given issues such as redundancy, contract and lease termination costs (hence the tenuous link with matters procurement!)  The Committee has re-inforced this view, and Gus O'Donnell, head of the civil service, was unable to explain what savings would arise from these changes.   And, as an ex non-executive director of an NDPB myself, merely changing them into an Agency or some other entity does not in itself save a penny.  It probably has a cost in fact, initially at least.

Becoming a political pundit for a moment; it seems to me that Labour have very little chance of making the line that 'the budget crisis wasn't our fault' stick.  They might have a little more success with 'the cuts are being implemented too quickly' message.  But the line that might have real resonance (if it were true) by the next election, would be "yes, cuts were necessary, but the government was incompetent in their execution of them".

So issues like this will become key in terms of the opportunity for the government to demonstrate competence or otherwise.   And there are many initiatives in progress, like the centralised procurement initiative, or the move to GP Commissioning, that have procurement elements or implications.

Voices (2)

  1. Peter Smith:

    It’s interesting Jonathan – the boom in outsourcing that everyone predicted under the Tories cedrtainly hasn’t happened yet – or even shown any real signs of kicking off…
    And the fact is, most of the ‘Quangos’ do useful / important stuff. They may not always do it as well as they could or should, but they perform functions that can’t just be ignored – however, they could be made more efficient, re-engineered, or outsourced.

  2. Jonathan Webb:

    Good points, Peter. I don’t think the bonfire of the QANGOs has been quite as fierce as the Government had previously planned. It seems most of the responsibilities has been brought back ‘in-house’, with no overall savings delivered. To continue the commercial analogy, if outsourcing business functions to a specialist providers yields savings of up to 10% – why is the same not true for government and NDPBs?

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