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Thursday, 3 June 2010

I Get Knocked Down

I read today that our new Coalition Gov't were about to get rid of another quango/ndpb. This time it's The General Teaching Council for England, the body set up to investigate teacher misconduct. It's the third quango in the education field to be axed. Earlier we saw the demise of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the schools technology agency BECTA (whatever that stands for, I haven't the energy to find out).

It's these outriders that are going to be cut early on as the Gov't seeks to reduce the large budget deficit. They're easy (and obvious) targets. Not many people are aware of their existence, let alone what they were set up to achieve. They're not "front line" services; they add "another layer of bureaucracy" - getting between funding and front line services. So if you're working for a similar body look to your P45.

These are small scale quangos, spending small sums, employing few people and with even fewer friends. So why were they set up in the first place? That's a question a lot of the almost 1,200 quangos will be addressing as they seek to keep their jobs in the coming months.

But what is a Quango? It's a Quasi-autonomous non governmental organisation, and along with its twin NDPBs (Non Departmental Public Bodies) they influence a significant part of our public life, and more importantly now spend a lot of tax payers (and borrowed money).

Th Guardian produced a list  for 2007, with 1162 bodies employing 714,000 people funded to the tune of £63.5 billion. That's not their gross expenditure which is £102 billion since many take in income from charges etc they levy on their services (sic).

The trouble is if you single out any one of these bodies for the chop, someone, somewhere is going to say that to do so would bring down civilisation as we know it. There are a lot of special interest  and pressure groups with lots of reasons why this or that quango is indispensable for a thousand reasons or more. Which is why since the days of Maggie Thatcher, Governments have come and gone but quangos have remained.

This is my blog so I can give rein to my prejudices.

Take the Cabinet Office - the Government Department that services the Prime Ministers Office and the various Cabinet committees along with our Security agencies. It's also in charge of the Third Sector - I think this is the voluntary sector but don't quote me. Anyway, the Cabinet Office have three quangos involved in this: CapacityBuilders UK Ltd: Commission for the Compact and Futurebuilders Advisory Panel!!!! To be honest they don't employ that many or cost that much; 28 people and £38 million a year. But on the grounds on naff names alone they should be abolished forthwith.


Another quango that caught my eye is under the Department of Communities and Local Government. It's "Firebuy". I tried to summarize what this agency does without irony but it's impossible. I'll just quote its web page. "The Framework Agreements will deliver a greater standardisation of product range based upon operational risk profiling, interoperability and user needs across FRAs, thereby contributing to national resilience along with opportunities to share resources." It basically buys fire engines for the fire services in England.

This is fun, another one  please. What about the Leasehold Advisory Service. It only employs 19 people and costs a mere £1.1 million so no big deal? According to their website "LEASE, The Leasehold Advisory Service, is an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB) funded by Government to provide free legal advice to leaseholders, landlords, professional advisers, managers and others on the law affecting residential leasehold and commonhold in England and Wales." What! it provides free advice to professional advisors and managers - who sure as hell charge the client for that free advice.

The Department of Communities and Local Government took over the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.As you'll recall this was John Prescott's fiefdom. A little play pen provided by Tony Blair to keep John happy. And play he certainly has - creating quangos left, right and centre. Including the Advisory Council on Beacon Councils - they keep their valuable work under wraps since they have no website, but Prezza's precise is helpful.

Do you remember all the fuss about the Thames Gateway - another Prezza scheme. Well, as far as most of us are concerned it didn't have wings and in the present climate even if it did it would be shot out of the sky. No one appears to have told the Thurrock Development Corporation, which spends £18 million a year and in 2005 "opened for business  to drive economic growth in Thurrock, create homes, jobs and opportunities and make Thurrock a place where people want to live and work." Yeah, right.

But hold on a minute, I'm forgetting the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation   . It only employs 20 odd people and costs £13 million a year, but its existence is vital to the regeneration of East London. How do I know: because they say so viz "The aim of LTGDC is to promote and deliver sustainable regeneration and growth of the London Thames Gateway within the context of the national policies set out in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Sustainable Communities Plan, the strategies for the wider Thames Gateway sub-region and the Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London (“London Plan”)". Bollocks.

I have had a lot of fun going through the list of quangos; and I've just scratched the surface. There are some serious big spenders in the list - local authorities and regional development agencies, the BBC and the Courts. Most will continue: they do a needed job and people value them. But many have been set up to placate sectional interests, to buy off special interests and, in many cases to insulate Ministers from having to take the heat. The Prison Service is a classic case - remember the Jeremy Paxman/ Michael Howard interview on the sacking of the head of the Prison Service.

Many, I hope, will go: Many spend money, make decisions about which we have no say.However, I feel some regret for the passing of the  Hearing Aid Council.

From the 31st of July your pleas will fall on deaf ears.

1 comment:

Tenon_Saw said...

GTC = a complete waste of time. I came out when I got a job in an independent school.