Reform of Whitehall and its associated quangocracy has played a crucial part in the work of the Coalition. Francis Maude has saved billions of pounds by doing what many experienced Whitehall-watchers thought couldn’t be done – namely, delivering genuine efficiency savings. The quangos, while not fully tackled, have been cut back somewhat. Here are five reasons Labour can’t be trusted to continue or even preserve that legacy:
- Labour believes that more expensive equals better. Remember the bad old days of Gordon Brown budgets? Every year increases in spending were recited as evidence of improvements in the operation of the state, and cheered to the heavens by Labour MPs. The potential for Maude’s massive savings was created by Labour’s massive levels of waste. Would they even see Whitehall savings as necessary or desirable, or would they revert to their traditional habit of using higher spending as proof of their own virtue?
- In Government, they went serially over-budget on major projects. The Coalition’s record on major public projects isn’t perfect – in 2013 it was reported that one third of them were late, over budget or both. But compare that to 2010, when fully two thirds of major projects were suffering from those problems. Given Labour’s love of grand projects, their inability to manage them properly is a serious concern.
- They created a boom in the unaccountable quango state. The size and scale of Labour’s quangocracy was staggering. By 2008 they had lost count themselves – the TaxPayers’ Alliance carried out detailed research revealing that while the Cabinet Office thought there were only 790 (using a conveniently narrow definition), in actual fact there were 1,148. Between them they had over 700,000 members of staff and spent £90 billion a year. Labour’s dislike of scrutiny meant the quango was the ideal tool – arms length, deniable and often opaque to awkward questions. Having vastly increased their power, they then put their friends in charge of them, naturally. Even Maude has found the battle to light a true “bonfire of the quangos” more difficult than expected – but it’s clear Ed Miliband would ditch the firelighters entirely.
- Labour opposes cuts to trade union Pilgrims. The practice of using taxpayers’ money to pay full-time trade union officials on the civil service payroll was a scandal. Labour effectively used public funds to subsidise the political operations of its allies. By 2010, there were 200 of them in the central civil service alone. The Coalition has cut that number to eight, and saved £26 million a year by reforming the system. Unsurprisingly, given they are overwhelmingly reliant on union donations, Labour have fought every step of the way to maintain the flow of money. Are our taxes for delivering services, or are they for subsidising cronies?
- They have very little private sector experience. It’s pretty uncontroversial to say that Whitehall could learn something from the best bits of the private sector. But the current Shadow Cabinet are extraordinarily ill-equipped for the job. As we revealed in January, their average private sector experience is just four and a half years, and only one of them has ever founded a business (it was a Brussels-based lobbying firm, naturally).