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Bonfire of quangos limited

Remember one of the early acts of the Coalition Government in 2010, a short-lived attempt to do away with the UK regulator the Security Industry Authority, part of a larger effort, a ‘bonfire of quangos’ as bureaucratic and burdensome to business? Such arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) are responsible for spending about £265 billion a year of taxpayers’ money. A report by the Public Accounts Committee of MPs says that progress on long-promised reforms and a big cut in the number of ‘quangos’ as they are also known “has been limited”.

Dame Meg Hillier, London Labour MP and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The famous ‘bonfire of the quangos’ of a decade ago notably failed to spark and in fact we’ve seen Government wave through half-baked business cases for arms-length bodies too often since. The public appointments to lead these bodies lack transparency and accountability to an extent that poses a real risk to the reputation of the organisation and so to how Government delivers objectives using them.

“Government must begin to properly account for the vast £265 billion of taxpayers’ money a year spent by ALBs, starting at the point of why they’re set up in the first place, and demonstrate who is genuinely the best person to lead and deliver through an open, fair and transparent public appointments process.”

The committee report recalled that the Cabinet Office’s Public Bodies Reform Programmes were ‘designed to drive a simplified, cost-effective system of delivery through ALBs’. As background: some 295 such bodies identified in the Cabinet Office’s 2018–19 public bodies dataset, down from 463 in 2016. The report said: “The scale and independence of these bodies can vary massively, from large organisations such as NHS England and Ofsted to much smaller bodies like the Boundary Commission for England and the Family Justice Council. Together they account for over £250 billion of public expenditure each year and employ roughly 300,000 people.”

Among its recommendations, the report says that poor data and legacy IT are a barrier to effective oversight of its arm’s-length bodies; and those legacy issues should be addressed.

For more on the Inquiry visit the UK Parliament website.


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