Was the bonfire of the quangos a botched job?

Francis Maude says he just wanted to 'get on' with scrapping quangos - but MPs say there should have been a consultation.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The much-lauded ‘bonfire of the quangos’ has threatened to turn into a raging inferno today after Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude hit back at accusations that the process has been ‘poorly managed’ and won’t save any money. Those comments came from the influential Public Administration Committee, which added that there’s little chance the cull, which will cut the number of public bodies from 901 to 648, will improve accountability. But Maude insists something had to be done, fast.

To be fair to Maude, the Government has already admitted the bonfire wasn’t necessarily designed to save money. Back in October, when it released details of the review, it was quick to say that it was more about rationalising the system than saving cash.

For the most part, that’s because the quangos aren’t actually going to be scrapped. In some cases, their functions will be absorbed into Government (which means ministers, rather than an arm’s-length body, will be directly responsible for Government actions), while some will be set up under another guise, as a mutual or charity. So Cycling England fans (who caused a bit of a ruckus in the comments section last time we wrote about the subject) will still be able to exercise their democratic right to free cycle training. What a relief.

Then again, Maude’s comments on this morning’s Today programme seemed less sure. ‘Of course there are going to be costs… but the savings will be very much more than that,’ he said – so perhaps there is money to be saved. And he defended his decision not to have a review, saying the Government couldn’t ‘just sit around and wait for things to happen. We want to get on with it’. Decisive, yes. Well informed? perhaps not.

Mixed messages aside, though, Maude’s point that in the past, Governments have ‘set up these bodies and then just [forgotten] about them’ is certainly worth a mention. He added that in future, quangos will undergo a review every three years, ‘otherwise they will just bumble along forever’.

All of which goes to show that while it’s easy to talk about saving public money, it’s much harder to do. A lesson the Government will probably learn many times over in the months to come…

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