Mark Wallace of The Taxpayers Alliance says a new Party Conference sport is needed – spotting the Quangocrats and Council bureaucrats attending at public expense.
Having a ball at the Conference Party conference season is well underway, and the focus is – naturally – on national politics. The smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd are joined by the personalities, the plots, the gossip, the blunders and the soundbites. But local government – and many other arms of the state – will be there, too.
Of course, one would naturally expect a lot of council leaders, councillors and activists to attend their respective party’s conference. After all, they form a crucial part of the core of all the political parties. What has changed in recent years, though, is that it has become acceptable and then increasingly common for councils to use their local taxpayers’ money to send people to conferences, host fringe meetings and even buy costly exhibition space in the venue itself.
This is clearly not a good use of people’s taxes. If councillors want to attend their party’s annual conference, then fine but they must do it at their own expense. For councils as institutions to pay for passes, exhibition space or events at a conference is completely unjustified. On a more political level, this practice can be viewed as a sly form of taxpayer-funding of political parties through the back door. Some unscrupulous councillors seem to view this as an opportunity to funnel council funds into the coffers of their favoured party. As we know, the public are dead against any taxpayer funding, but some seem keen to introduce it through the back door.
This doesn't just apply to councils, either. Numerous quangos have been spending millions at the conferences, extending their own mandates to include political lobbying.
Last Christmas, a report by the TaxPayers' Alliance revealed that the Regional Development Agencies alone spent over £285,000 at the party conferences.
Technically, those days should be over. Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, has ordered quangos not to attend the conferences, rightly ruling it to be outside their remit. Sir Gus has also said that any quango wanting to attend will neeed to prove exceptional circumstances to him, personally in advance.
This is where Conservative Home's readers can help to cut out such wasteful spending. If you see a quango (or council) stall, or if you meet a quangocrat at the Tory conference, jot down the details, take a photo and send it to us at the TPA. We'll be writing to the Cabinet Secretary to report them, and to find out what their excuse is.