Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A bonfire of quangos?

It's a popular slogan, although Dave Cameron didn't actually use in its speech yesterday. Let's get rid of these unaccountable bodies that are paying high salaries, wasting our money, are unaccountable and are interfering in our lives.

Problem is that politicians actually like quangos because it means they can shift the responsibility and the blame elsewhere. Indeed, it seems that the Conservatives are actually proposing to create some more.

It's interesting how the term is used when in its original formulation by Tony Barker it meant something else: a quasi non-governmental organisation. In other words, a private body that is used for public purposes, sometimes called a 'chosen instrument'. The in vogue collective term today for these bodies is 'third sector'. The correct term for the bodies is Non Departmental Public Body but that is not as exciting as quango which sounds like some kind of Latin American dance routine, perhaps pioneered by Vince Cable.

The question one has to ask about quangos is this: is the function they performe required? If so, is it better done by them or some other body?

If one wants to save money, this can only be done as part of a comprehensive review of what the state does. This was the Canadian approach which is attracting considerable attention today from Dave and others. It makes more sense than just slicing x per cent off everything. But it has to be done properly: for example, one has to ask, are all the procedures carried out by the NHS necessary?

However, one area that the Canadians did slash was agricultural subsidies and we can't do that because of the CAP.

There is much more talk going around of a 20 per cent cut in public expenditure. I doubt whether this is really going to be needed but it is a good way of softening people up for 10 or 12 per cent cuts as then they think they have escaped with a good deal.

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