The coalition’s programme for government stated that it would ‘reduce the number and costs of quangos’. To achieve this, a review was conducted of all public bodies to identify those that it felt were no longer necessary.
But, as the Public Administration Select Committee’s report shows, the review was poorly managed. There was no meaningful consultation, the tests the review used were not clearly defined and the Cabinet Office failed to establish a proper procedure for departments to follow. It will not deliver the cost savings or improved accountability that was promised.
It is important that the government learns lessons from these mistakes and does not conduct future reviews in a similar way. The Bill giving the government the power to bring about the bonfire of the quangos was also badly drafted.
Now that decisions have been taken as to which bodies to abolish or reform, the government faces the much larger challenge of successfully implementing these reforms. Any organisation would struggle with changes on this scale, and so the Cabinet Office needs to prepare clear guidance on how to manage the transition.
All in all it represents a missed opportunity. The whole process was rushed and poorly handled and should have been thought through more carefully.
The government should have reassessed what function public bodies need to perform and transferred more of these activities to charities and mutuals. This was a fantastic opportunity to help build the Big Society and save money at the same time, but this objective must continue to be pursued in future reviews.
Bernard Jenkin is the chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee. The PASC’s report, Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State is published today