The shameless sense of entitlement of quangocrats

Leaving do’s. I imagine we’ve all had one, and probably a number. In all of mine, it’s been me who’s paid for food and drink. Occasionally, the organisation I was leaving allowed time for the ‘do’ on their premises.

What a shameless sense of entitlement that quangocrats exhibit. The departing chairwoman of the Arts Council has held her leaving ‘do’ this week, which has been paid for by the taxpayer. Not only does Dame Liz Forgan berate the government for cutting the Arts Council subsidy, but in the ‘so called’ straightened times of the Arts Council they can still find £8,000 for a leaving do.

I imagine that Dame Liz would have no problem funding that herself. Hell no. When the Arts Council asked government for approval for such an event, the government, is reported, to have said no. The Arts Council went ahead anyway and organised an event that they called a ‘thought leadership piece’. I’m indebted to Toby Young’s article in the Daily Telegraph, for his reproducing the quote from the Arts Council that appeared in the Daily Mail. Here’s the piece of drivel from the Arts Council:

“An Arts Council spokesman denied the event was a ‘leaving do’, saying it was a ‘thought leadership piece which will help stimulate debate’, and that costs were ‘kept to a minimum’.”


Cut of the day 9: Quango cull

Wowee, a leaked report obtained by the Daily Telegraph tells of the government’s plans to cull 177 quangos [definition of a quango HERE].

Already there are squeals of protest about the cull. In business change is part of business life, something not usually to be feared, but something that gives new energy and focus. Yet in government, when something is set up, it seems to be forever.

While at first it might appear sensible to create a body that specifically looks at one issue, and at ‘arm’s length’ from government. Any such advantage is quickly lost through bureaucracy. It might not be true of all quangos, but there’s a natural tendency for them to feel important, being an arm of government, and naturally therefore feel an entitlement to smart offices, trendy logo’s and a PR and marketing budget.

There’s something else that quangos are associated with, and that’s patronage and honours. The choice of leaders of quangos is an opportunity to reward political acolytes, and to get political appointees into what is effectively an arm of the civil service. A properly functioning democracy needs an apolitical civil service.

The profile that comes with leading a quango, which is promoted by the quangos own PR and marketing machine, is an opportunity to gain an honour. I know that this is a crude generalisation, but all I ask is that you look at the background and honours of those who run quangos, Dame Suzi Leather is one such example. The chief executive of a council wouldn’t be allowed to be active in party politics, so why is it acceptable in government.

John Redwood offers a spot on analysis of why quango-culling is a good thing, and Guido Fawkes  identifies savings from a cull of the Union Modernisation Advisory Fund [description HERE].

Cut of the day 3: Use of lobbyists stopped

I’m a bit late with this one, as it was announced last week by Eric Pickles, Secretary for Communities and Local Government.

Eric wants to stop Local Government and Quango’s from using lobbyists. Claiming it’s wasteful for them to hire lobbyists to lobby government for more money or their pet project. In Eric Pickles’ article in the Guardian newspaper on the subject, he begins,

“Many councils and quangos hire public affairs firms using taxpayers’ money to lobby government for even more money: it sounds like something that shouldn’t be allowed, but it is happening with increasing frequency.”

There’s no need for this expenditure, when that’s the job of local councillors and the marketing teams in local government to press their case. I can imagine an odd exception or two, but Eric’s argument is sound. It’ll force councils to hone their own skills, and not rely on expensive outside help.

In his Guardian article, Eric provides some examples that he considered wasteful expenditure, and one is about us in Surrey. He says,

“… when Surrey police authorities tried to raise their council tax precept by over 7%, they hired top dogs Weber Shandwick, using public money to try to oppose a cap.”

Eric is leading from the front here, by informing his Arms Length Bodies [Quango’s to you and me], all nine of them, to cancel their contracts with lobbyists. If you’re interested in what’s been cancelled, take a look at the list at the bottom of his Department’s press release.

Quango culling continuing apace – one example reviewed

Forget the squeals from the quanocracy about their loss of income and influence. Culling quango’s is what is needed to help reduce the cost of government.

Much of the quango sector has grown fat on government largesse, with only marginal democratic oversight and legitimacy.

If these changes worry you, they shouldn’t. Looking at Jeremy Hunt’s decision yesterday to abolish a number of Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s [DCMS] quangos, it’s fairly easy to see why.

Let’s take the UK Film Council, which is to be abolished. It’s mostly funded by the DCMS and receives an almost equal aamout from the National Lottery to support the UK film industry. My, isn’t it amazing the things the Lottery supports. I thought it was all for good causes, apparently not when you see what they fund.

I’ll let you roam around its website. But, I’ll save you the effort at looking at its annual report and accounts. Executive pay and staff pay are a good indication of how much money is sloshing around. The UK Film Council employ 92 staff [excl directors]. Senior managers earn around £150,000 a year excluding pension contributions.

Ok, so what happens to the work of the UK Film Council? Oh, by the way, it’s not all that old, established in 2000. Well, Jeremy Hunt thinks that much of its work can be done by the British Film Institute, founded in 1933.

Methinks he’s spot on here.  I’ve had a look at the BFI’s last annual report and accounts. What a difference. The governers waived their emoluments, or drew minor expenses, while the highest paid employeee earned £129,000, and that’s for managing 437 staff.

Compare the work of both bodies, and consider which is more closely aligned to the UK film industry. Yep, you’ve got it. In my opinion it’s the BFI. What doesn’t surprise is that many in the film industry cry ‘shock, horror’ at the change. But naturally, they didn’t read that Jeremy Hunt said that the change “would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money – Government and Lottery support for film will continue.” Although he didn’t announce how much.

Update: Silly me, got my figures wrong on UK Film Council’s director’s pay. Must be more careful. Have removed offending sentence.

SEEDA to be abolished

Good news, the South East England Regional Development Agency [SEEDA] is to be abolished. Just as I’d hoped last year.

Take a look at their last annual report, for 2008-9, to see the rates of pay and pension benefits for the senior managers, and where the money is spent. Note the over 20% increase in administration costs, the increasing in staffing, all during a time of recession. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Big rise in spending on quango’s

Just when you hoped we would be saving money, under Gordon Brown’s premiership, spending on quango’s [or Non Departmental Public Bodies as the government call them] has risen by £10billion or 25 per cent over the past three years, even in the last year it rose by 7%.

The TheyWorkForYou website notes the release of the 2009 report on Public Bodies. I could’ve taken the figures from the report, but am happy to rely on the Daily Telegraph for their summary analysis.

The depressing statistics on quango’s are:

  • Spending increased by a quarter over the last three years, from £37billion to £46.5billion.
  • The number quango’s fell from 827 to 790 between 2008 and 2009, but staff employed by the executive bodies increased from 92,500 to 110,000.
  • Last year, spending rose by £3.5 billion – or 7 per cent – to £46.5billion.
  • In 1997/98 quangos cost the UK £21.4billion, in 2008/9 they cost £46.5billion.

Note: Definitions for Quango and NDPB

Final Note: Now’s the time for the Tories to announce savings by removing some of them.

Good work on uncovering the number of Quango’s

Even before I looked into the reasons for the disastrous foot and mouth outbreak at Pirbright in 2007, I’ve been concerned about the democratic deficit of Non Departmental Public Bodies, otherwise known as Quango’s.

It’s no easy task to investigate the activities of Quango’s, their operation, their funding and particularly their costs. As I said, looking deeper into the causes of the foot and mouth virus leak from The Institute of Animal Health’s laboratories at Pirbright was involved and time-consuming.

So, we must thank the good work of the TaxPayer’s Alliance for their latest work: Guide to the UK’s Semi-Autonomous Public Bodies.

I’ve added Public Bodies as a new category to this blog, as I’m keen to see how effective David Cameron is in abolishing quango’s.

The quangocracy’s demise

Well, I’m hoping for the demise of the bloated and over paid quangocracy. It’s long been something that rankles with me. When, back in 2007, I investigated the reasons for the foot and mouth outbreakin nearby Pirbright, I struggled with the  Institute of Animal Health’s impenetrable annual reports, absolute master classes in cover up and subterfuge. 

Transparency, openness, democratic oversight, fitness for purpose are all things I treasure in any public organisation. All are sadly lacking in most quango’s.

In a truly excellent article, Dave Can’t Govern Unless He Destroys The Quango’s, by Dennis Sewell in The Spectator, he argues that it’s going to be a tough job to chop away at the 1,160 quango’s in the UK, which employ over 700,000 people. Here’s a flavour of this must read article,

“The public are thoroughly fed up too with the smug, preachy, arrogant and largely unaccountable class who are in day-to-day command of so much of national life. The maddening regulation, the endless network of agencies making a mare’s nest out of everything from exams to hospital standards — all of these are rooted in the quangos. To postpone picking a fight with the quangocracy will be to surrender to the status quo.”

I posted in July about’s Cameron’s promise to take a Quash the Quango’s, and way back in December 2007  I noted Cameron’s desire to cut back on the quangocracy.

Dave, this’ll be a tough, tough fight. But one that’s absolutely necessary.

Quashing Quango’s

The Conservatives look as though they’ll be tough on Quango’s and it’s overpaid quangocracy. About time. You’ve only to do a little bit of digging into these organisations to be filled with horror at their size, bloated pay rates, and self importance. Of those that are retained, their functions need to be taken back into civil service control, with the resulting benefit of democratic oversight.

Here’s part of what David Cameron said about controlling quango’s to the BBC today on the subject,

“Too many state actions, services and decisions are carried out by people who cannot be voted out by the public, by organisations that feel no pressure to answer for what happens, in a way that is completely unaccountable.”

“But in too many cases these organisations have got bigger and bigger. They spend about £64bn a year, they start having their own communications departments, their own press officers; they start making policy rather than just delivering policy – and their bosses are paid vast amounts of money.”

This is good management of our nation, and also good politics. If Cameron can really achieve this, when in government, it will bring about an enormous change in our public life.

I’m becoming more optimistic by the day that Conservatives, when in office, will transform the country. Michael Gove’s truly excellent grasp of the reforms needed in our education system being one aspect for optimism, and this quango quashing agenda is another. Cameron’s Conservatives are building an impressive head of steam.

Next the unelected quangocracy

The MP’s expenses scandal has emboldened opposition. Douglas Carswell’s motion of no confidence in the Speaker being one, though should say he’s been active in this regard for quite a bit longer. Next, and how I agree with Daniel Hannan, an end to the over paid, over mighty, unelected quanocracy. [Almost 1000 public bodies, spending £43 billion]

Change is coming like a freight train, and it’s not stopping.