Magazine article Public Finance

Out of the Ashes

Magazine article Public Finance

Out of the Ashes

Article excerpt

Since the coalition government assumed power in May, it has pressed ahead with plans to cut red tape and make Whitehall more efficient; both as a cost-saving measure and to lessen the burden of target-driven administration. Public bodies responsible for regulation, supervision and expert advice have borne the brunt of this policy.

In the run-up to October's Comprehensive Spending Review, it was announced that some 1 92 quangos would be axed, and another 289 merged or substantially reformed. This long-predicted 'bonfire of the quangos' followed months of criticism, in which the bodies were blamed for a lack of accountability and for wasting public money.

But a world without quangos to advise and scrutinise the public sector also comes with risks.

Every part of the public sector will feel the effect of this move towards less regulation. For example, the abolition of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, as well as AO health quangos, looks set to change the NHS landscape forever; scrapping education bodies such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency will have a lasting impact on teaching and schools; and, for local authorities, the Audit Commission is due to disappear in 2012.

Nick Seddon, deputy director of think-tank Reform, believes scaling back quangos is generally a good thing. 'They have a strong record of being pretty expensive and inefficient, and certainly unaccountable. They are in a twilight zone, controllable by neither the elected, the electors or the market,' he says.

But Jessica Crowe, executive director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, worries about what will be put in their place. 'There needs to be something fairly robust that will replace the role they played hitherto... there still needs to be something that will pick up early warning signs that an organisation is heading into difficulty. …

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