The odious sense of entitlement of the quangocracy

Like many I’ve long held a sceptical view of the politicisation of quangos [quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation].

Quangos are established by government as an executive agencies, though sharing goals, they’re independent of each other. In principle they are free from direct government control, and free from party politics. Well, that’s the aim. In practice an appointment to a quango has been a political reward.

Yes, yes, get to the point please.

Well, the bleating of Baroness Morgan – the head of OFSTED – about not being reappointed exhibits two things; an odious sense of entitlement that it’s my right to carry on, and exhibiting the base party politics that she apparently so deplores.

Here are some facts for your consideration,

  • Ofsted was set up by John Major’s government in 1992. It says about itself, “Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial”. Note impartial.
  • On 8th Feb 2011 Education Secretary Michael Gove appoints Baroness Morgan of Huyton to post of Ofsted chairman.
  • Wikipedia entry for Baroness Morgan, recording a lifetime of political activism for the Labour Party.
  • Baroness Morgan was Director of Government Relations working in Tony Blair’s office at No.10.
  • On Friday 31st January 2014 Michael Gove announces that Baroness Morgan will not be reappointed OFSTED chair when her term ends in February 2014. So that’s simply she’s not being renewed as chair, that’s not the same as being sacked.

Baroness Morgan is displaying politics that she so disparages. “There is an absolutely determined effort from Number 10 that Conservative supporters will be appointed to public bodies,” said Baroness Morgan. Completely forgetting that she was appointed by the Coalition government.

She complains about the politicisation of quango appointments by Conservatives, conveniently ignoring that facts, as Fraser Nelson in The Spectator neatly discounts. It strikes me that there’s politics in play here from Baroness Morgan, if I can’t keep my job, I’ll be like Elizabeth Bolt in the Just William stories, “I’ll scream and scream until I’m sick”.

UPDATE: Excellent chart in Peter Hoskin’s article, again completely disproving her argument.

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].

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.

Changes in local government: regional strategies abolished

In the second post on what Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, has been up to, this action is of major significance.

The previous government established a level of unelected regional quango’s that set strategies at a regional level, such as housing policy for the South East. In a letter to Leaders of local councils, Eric Pickles said,

“I am writing to you today [27th May] to highlight our committment in the coalition agreements where we very clearly set out our intention to rapidly abolish Regional Strategies and return decision making powers on housing and planning to local councils. Consequently, decisions on housing supply [including the provision of travellers sites] will rest with Local Planning Authorities without the framework of regional numbers and plans.”

This means that the views of our communities and villages will carry more weight than the unelected members of the regional quango’s. However in Surrey Heath we’re still affected by the requirements of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area.

This is excellent news. I look forward to seeing how this new policy direction develops.

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.

Finessing on spending and budget cuts causes doubts

David Cameron’s finessing of the argument for urgent spending and budget cuts is causing some concern, as my morning Citywire email on their article, Tories lose their nerve as spending cuts too costly’, confirms. At the weekend Cameron notably said that cuts would not be ‘swingeing’ and would not start immediately.

It obviously good politics not to frighten the voters before an election. But, finessing one’s argument needs care. Maybe Cameron’s judgement is that middle Britain is growing concerned about the urgent cuts message. Especially. as we now hear, from CityAM, that 57% of all jobs created since 1997 are ‘para-state’, in that they rely on government funding in one way or another.

While I can accept the politics of the change of emphasis, I think the Conservatives need a couple of signal spending cuts. A couple of big quango’s would do the job, cutting into the overpaid quangocracy.

Great, Cameron makes a start

No sooner the word than the deed. Cameron announces that Quango’s must justify their existence, all public sector salaries over £150, 000 to be published, the Standards Board for England to be scrapped, and quite a bit more.

This is a good start to the process of introducing accountability and cutting back on unneccessary expenditure.

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.