Francis Maude MP is Minister for the Cabinet Office.
ConHome readers are rightly wary of politicians’ promises to quash quangos. After all for years they’ve heard plenty of that sort of talk. But despite all the promises the quangocracy spiralled ever bigger.
Labour didn’t just leave us the biggest ever peacetime deficit. We inherited a bloated collection of 900 unaccountable quangos. These burned through billions of pounds of your hard-earned money without ever having to answer to the public. When we came into office in 2010, government didn’t even know how many of these bodies there were. So we took a long hard look around and worked out the lay of the land.
What we found were hundreds of quangos that should have been abolished or merged together. It’s hard to imagine why Ministers didn’t do this before. The more bizarre sounding bodies included the Darwin Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on Packaging, the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines, and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body – or WAB for short. All of those have gone.
To ensure that we could get rid of all the quangos we thought should go we needed to legislate. And so we passed a new law – the Public Bodies Act – just before Christmas last year. We haven’t wasted time and we are already more than halfway through the first phase of our reform programme.
I’m pleased to announce today that we have abolished 106 quangos and that more than 150 bodies have been merged together to leave fewer than 70. These changes represent the biggest package of reforms for a generation.
And they will ensure enormous savings for taxpayers. The closures we have already made will save £1.4 billion – that’s around £100 for each working household. Together, this Government’s full reform programme will save at least £2.6 billion by 2015 and the cost of quangos will be £900 million lower ever single year after that.
But our reforms aren’t just about saving money. We want everyone to know just who is responsible for delivering key services – and how they can hold them to account.
Labour set up the Regional Development Agencies at a cost of £2billion a year to improve the economies of different English regions. But the gap between the best and the worst performing regions didn’t close. We have scrapped the RDAs and given local businesses and communities real power through Local Enterprise Partnerships.
In Education eleven quangos have gone, ensuring more pounds are focused on the frontline and decisions about teaching are taken by teachers, not by quangocrats. And we have moved out the quango in charge of the 2,000 miles of historic canals and rivers across England and Wales. A new charity, the Canal & River Trust, allows anyone who loves and uses their local rivers and canals to get more involved in how they are run.
I am determined that we should never end up again with the situation Labour left for us in 2010. That’s why we will ensure that each remaining quango is reviewed once every three years. There are good reasons to keep certain functions at arm’s length from government but if a body doesn’t meet those then it will go.
I’ve introduced three simple tests that each and every quango must pass to survive. One: does it perform a necessary technical role? Two: does it need to be politically impartial? Three: does it need to act independently to establish facts? If it doesn’t meet these tests we will either scrap it or bring its functions into government.
Our quango reform programme has made a good start, saving huge amounts of money and sharpening accountability. We are more transparent about quangos and who works for them than any government before. And our Civil Service Reform programme is ensuring that remaining quangos are more efficient and effective. But let’s be clear when it comes to shrinking and streamlining the quango state there’s plenty more to come.