Friday, September 24, 2010

Quango Bonfire - Smoke Seen

Yes, that's definitely smoke

Today's leaked list of quango terminations makes interesting reading. Out of the 1000+ currently in existence, 177 are definitely going, 129 are being merged, and a further 94 are still awaiting sentence.

Onto the bonfire go some of BOM's real old faves: the Audit Commission (eg see this blog), the Qualifications and Curriculum and Authority (see this blog), the Thames Gateway Development Corporation (see this blog), the UK Film Council (see this blog), the Union Modernisation Advisory Fund (see this blog), and others too numerous to mention.

The DT has an absolutely excellent visual summary of the cuts here.

So where do we stand against our list of priority candidates set out in the TPA/IOD cuts paper? Here's our top 13 candidates for abolition/privatisation, along with their most recently published annual costs (as summarised in the TPA's 2009 quango report - see there for details):
  1. Standards Board for England (£10m) - chopped
  2. Office for Fair Access (£0.4m) - still awaiting sentence
  3. National College for School Leadership (£83m) - still awaiting sentence
  4. BECTA (£10m) - chopped
  5. School Food Trust (£6m) - chopped
  6. Welsh C4 (£98m) - apparently reprieved
  7. Football Licencing Authority (£1m)- apparently reprieved
  8. Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (£12m) - still awaiting sentence
  9. Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation; London Thames Gateway Development Corporation; West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (£125m) - all chopped
  10. British Waterways (£68m) - chopped (although presumably that really means spun off - as recommended by the TPA)
  11. Sustainable Development Commission (£3m) - chopped
  12. Carbon Trust (£94m) - still awaiting sentence
  13. Regional Development Agencies (£2,212m) - chopped
Overall, it seems 7 of the 13 are already chopped, with a further 4 still awaiting sentence.

Which is all quite impressive. But there's still a lot to do.

To start with, the 94 quangos still awaiting sentence include some prime candidates for the chop. Not just the Carbon Trust, but also our old friends the British Council, and the BBC (well, the World Service anyway). We mustn't have any last minute wobbling on them.

And then there's the Regional Development Agencies. They may have been chopped, but are they actually in the flames yet? We wouldn't want to find they've been hoiked out of the bonfire and surreptitiously given a new life under an assumed name.

Which raises a broader point we mustn't lose sight of. While chopping quangos has a huge appeal to most of us, what really matters in terms of cost saving is chopping the programmes they are responsible for. Thus chopping the RDAs only saves big bucks if the underlying spending is also cut - if the spending carries on, only administered direct by St Vince, nothing much gets saved at all.

When the Comprehensive Spending Review is formally announced next month, we'll need to probe very carefully behind the quango headlines.

PS Talking of the BBC, it's good to hear they've finally agreed to allow the National Audit Office full access to the BBC's books. Except of course, they haven't quite - "stars" pay will apparently remain secret. It is disgraceful that a tax-funded quango should have been able to stop us knowing how it spends our money for so long - behaviour that stands in stark contrast to its own strident calls for transparency in everyone else's financial affairs (eg bankers bonuses). And compare their own lack of disclosure with the lip smackin' detail they are pumping out on who will lose from the public spending cuts.

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