The Public Administration Select Committee report on Quangos makes tiresome reading. Sometimes reading the report it seems to be saying the Government has abolished too many Quangos, sometimes it seems to be saying they haven't gone far enough. I suppose this is a feature of trying to accommodate Labour and Conservative MPs as joint authors on reports on big contentious subject.
The stuff about saying there should have been delay for more consultation before any Quangos were abolished was especially wet. The whining about process was included to accommodate Quangocrats who had gave evidence to the committee and had developed an appalling sense of entitlement. We have had 13 years in opposition to think about what to do. There is also a financial urgency to get on with it. There is no money, Bernard.
Saying that the functions carried out by the Quangos need to be abolished to get big savings rather than just transfer them to Government Departments was a fair point. But often their functions are being scrapped. the report suggests that the modest target of £1 billion a year savings will not be achieved – on the grounds that the Government has yet to calculate what the total savings will be. The report says:
At the outset, both accountability and value for money were considerations, but the extent to which quangos reform would yield significant savings was probably exaggerated. This created a false
expectation that the review would deliver greater savings than it has been able to realise. Consequently, the Government appears unsure about the extent to which the reform will result in significant savings for the taxpayer.
I am all for the Government abolishing more Quangos and their functions. Francis Maude has said those abolished so far is just the start. But I am confident that when the savings are added up on what has been done so far it will be far more than £1 billion – contrary to what the report suggests.
By the way that is before we even take into account the indirect costs. For instance the Audit Commission had a budget of £200 million. But my council reckoned that complying with its vast demands for data and targets cost £300,000 in officer time on the CAA alone. My borough is relatively small and we did all we could to keep the time spent on the exercise to a minimum. I'm sure around the country you could add at least another £100 million to Town Hall savings to the Audit Commission's abolition.
The Government should go further on Quango abolition. But they should be congratulated on what they done already.