Lobbying by quangos should be banned and greater efforts should be made to reduce the number and cost of them in line with the Coalition programme. These concerns are highlighted in today’s Public Administration Select Committee report into the quango state.
Lobbying by quangos is an abuse of public money. It is completely wrong that our money should be used for the purpose of getting more of… our money. Lobbying and the hiring of lobbyists or PR organisations by quangos should be subject to a complete ban.
Lobbying of this sort is commonplace. It’s not just the UK Film Council who hired Portland Communications in a bid to save their neck. An RDA spent £250,000 using public money to attend party conferences. In my own constituency, the Dover Harbour Board, a public statutory corporation, hired Bell Pottinger to press their case for Government to allow a port sell off that will mean millions for management but little for anyone else. The response of Ministers that there are guidelines on lobbying is not good enough. We do not need guidelines, we need a prohibition.
The number and cost of quangos should be reduced. More could be turned into Big Society co-ops and mutuals and moved out of the public sector altogether (a case I have been making for the port of Dover’s future). Yet of 901 quangos under review, this is planned for just 9.
Furthermore, while it is great news that Ministers are conducting a quango review, it should go wider. It surprised me that the review does not encompass value for money or efficiency. A focus on the cost of quangos will help cut the deficit. If something needs to be done by Government, it should be done in the Government Department. If not, it should be pushed out of the public sector altogether.
The twilight World quangos inhabit leads inevitably to a lack of clarity, an accountability deficit and, worst of all, function creep. These things are all premium ingredients for the wasting of public money. The Coalition programme’s pledge to reduce the number and cost of quangos is welcome. Yet this modernisation needs to be faster, deeper and wider.