Public Sector: Quango cull is poor politics

The popular sport of quango bashing is all the rage once again.

Unelected, unintelligible, often involved in some quiet corner of public life, the army of acronyms that quangos represent is an easy target for those saying they would clear out government and start afresh.

Margaret Thatcher promised a quango cull. So did Tony Blair. David Cameron has identified 'more than 1,100' and promised to make the '£34bn quango state' more accountable, cost-efficient and effective.

The acronym for 'quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation' was created as a joke term in the 1960s. Now, whenever you hear the word, you can safely assume it will be followed by a) outrage at how many there are, b) exorbitant accounts of how much they cost taxpayers, and c) a promise by the nearest politician to slash them to the bone.

The problem with this argument is that it tars a whole load of perfectly useful organisations with the same brush. Of course, there are some non-departmental public bodies that are not particularly effective. Just as some government departments are more effective than others. And some politicians.

But I doubt there are whole herds of quangos doing such a bad job that they need to be culled on a grand scale. If they were, I suspect we would suddenly find that no single organisation was responsible for training teachers any more, or investigating complaints against the police or press. Or monitoring MPs' expenses.

Rather like the House of Lords, the point about quangos is that they offer independent, technical expertise, based on a body of work that lasts a lot longer than the average government. They are not bound by the five-year electoral cycle and so can offer advice that looks further into the future and is rooted in deeper, longer experience gained from the past.

I should declare an interest at this point - I have worked for a few quangos over the years. But I think I now have the perfect solution. Set up a new body to monitor them all and call it the Quango Evaluation Department. QED.

- Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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