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Monday 6 July 2009

Partners for the Quango

Another day, another battleground opened up: today, as the deeply subversive BBC has reported, Young Dave’s latest target is the Quasi-Autonomous National Government Organisation, or quango. He’s proposing to reduce their number, the inference being that this will save money. Unsurprisingly, Labour have moved to rubbish this particular Tory idea by claiming that Dave is actually going to increase the number of quangos. Is it a story, or more politicking?

Quangos, not surprisingly, have previous: they were well established sufficiently to make good material for Yes, Minister many years ago. A prime example is Ofcom, the media watchdog. Dave says that Ofcom is not just regulating, but making policy, which is not what an unelected body should be doing. Noises from Ofcom suggest that they merely report to the Government, and policy is made there.

Another soft target is provided when the numbers are totted up: quangos spend tens of billions of pounds every year. However, this is not, as some would suggest, the cost of running quangos, but merely the sum that passes through their hands: the money would be spent regardless of the ideological purity of the body spending it. But this doesn’t put Dave off: he’s also hot on the heels of the heads of many quangos, over their pay levels.

So are the Tories proposing pay cuts for those in Quangoland? Ah well. On this, Dave isn’t quite so forthright. But he does want to make quangos “more accountable”. If he’s meaning that ministers will no longer be able to play “blame the quango”, as the Beeb’s Nick Robinson has touched on in his blog this morning, I’m with him all the way.

But, and as ever, it’s a big but, we’ve been here before. Pa Broon claimed to have quangos in his crosshairs in the days when he was in opposition. For the Tories, “Tarzan” Heseltine appeared similarly minded. It didn’t happen: if it had, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And, as with the EU, quangos are easy to scapegoat: it would be more than disappointing if this particular Cameron initiative were just another product of the Coulson claptrap machine, and that “blame the quango” was still being practised, but with the veneer of “accountability”.

Call me sceptical, but I’m not buying Dave’s sandwich until he shows me the filling.

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