The Trouble With Quangos

Monday, 6 July 2009

Oops! David Cameron has dared to mention an example of a quango that needs looking at for the future — not scrapping it (unlike many others) but reducing its functions to true non-governmental ones in the literal sense.

Ofcom doesn't like that at all. Why should they be singled out for attention, they say, when they offer good value for money, having been created by the merging of five predecessor quangos.

Well, that tells us something about the attitude of these outfits: an assumption of a God-given right to exist and to continue to operate unchanged indefinitely. However carefully they have worded their statement, that is the only possible interpretation of their stance.

I have news for them: they don't decide what they do and whether they are the right ones to do anything, either specifically or generally. responsibility for policy rests with elected representatives of the people, not bureaucrats. I well recall from my more than seven years working in what later became known as the Radiocommunications Agency just how important that distinction was and surely always will be.

We had the technical expertise and the machinery in place, as a Government Ministry (once upon a time all by itself, then as part of the Home Office and, from 1983, within the then DTI), as served the people of Britain under the policies of the government of the day — and in accordance with international agreements and suchlike.

Quangoes should not decide policy as such — no-one has elected them to represent the public. Ofcom should therefore be pleased that Cameron is proposing to keep it in a reduced form, but doing the kind of work for which quangos can occasionally be of genuine value. Just because it is less expensive than what went before doesn't justify its costs today or even its existence.

I'd suggest they let government — present and future — decide what to do with them; and in particular not to rock the boat and cheese off those who will be taking those decisions after the General Election. If they get above themselves that will have to be perceived as a danger and I'd then suggest they be scrapped altogether.


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