Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Matthew Sinclair, John O'Connell, and Tom Burkard
23 November 2010
We are now talking about public bodies. May I ask our three witnesses
to identify themselves for the record?
Tom Burkard: Tom
Burkard, from the Centre for Policy Studies.
I am Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance.
I am John O'Connell, Research Director at the TaxPayers' Alliance.
Could I ask everyone to speak particularly clearly as one of our
witnesses has left his hearing aid in the hotel so we need to
make sure that we are heard? Could I ask Mr Burkard to give a
little background about what his book is about "Inside
the Secret Garden: The Progressive Decay of Liberal Education"?
Tom Burkard: "Inside
the Secret Garden" is an analysis of the failings of
British education in the sense in which it has been controlled
by a professional elite with no pretence of any kind of democratic
mandate for further philosophy and ideology.
Chair: Thank you. Somebody
wants to ask the first question already.
Q262 Mr Walker:
Can I ask the first question?
Chair: If you like.
Mr Walker: But not off
the paper. Can I ask a question about waste?
Chair: So long as it's
not somebody else's question.
Mr Walker: No, no it won't
be. You are very concerned about waste in the public sector as
I am. I would just like to talk to you very brieflyit
is not off the point, I think. You heard us talk about the use
of lobbyists by the public sector, but there is a growing use
of headhunters by the public sector. I mentioned a company last
week called Saxton Bampfylde, but it could have been read across
to any company. Let me just give you an example. Saxton Bampfylde
have just done a recruitment job for the CBI. They boast on their
website in a press release that they interviewed 48 candidates
on a shortlist. They whittled it down to eight. Then guess what?
The CBI recruited John Cridland, the Deputy Director General,
who I am sure they were going to appoint anyway. In a sense John
Cridland was laundered though headhunting firms. I am concerned
we are seeing increasing use of headhunting firms across Whitehall,
when actually the candidate they want is already known before
the process starts, but in essence these candidates are laundered
though headhunting firms and the taxpayer ends up picking up a
significant cost in the form of the fees of these headhunting
Chair: Eight months of
Q263 Mr Walker:
It is normally 30% to 40% of salary now. Saxton Bampfylde have
been in touch with me in regards to a recent head they hunted
for the Appointments Commission. They said it was nowhere near
that figure, but they won't give me the actual figure. Could
you touch on that because I am extremely concerned about this?
These are significant sums of money and we need to know what's
I think the concern with headhunters, as with other consultants,
is that they are looking for people to do what IBM used to do
for IT professionals, which is no one ever gets fired for buying
IBM. If they have had it, rubberstamp. It they have had this
approval that this candidate has come from the headhunter, when
they later get criticised, if something goes wrong they will be
able to say, "Well we did everything we could. We got this
headhunter. They told us this was the best candidate."
I think there is a huge risk that there will be, as you say, a
propensity to use consultants in general, and particularly headhunters,
more than is necessary as a way of legitimising decisions and
protecting decisions against future scrutiny, which represent
extremely poor value for the taxpayer.
Q264 Mr Walker:
I can't prove this, but I think there is probably a really good
idea who they want in many cases. The headhunter is probably
notified who they really want and the whole process is geared
around providing camouflage for that person. Would you suggest
there could be legitimate grounds for concern about that?
I think it is absolutely legitimate grounds for concern. I think
they will be used to satisfy process rather than to get the best
candidates. I think that could absolutely happen.
Any disagreement Mr Burkard? No.
Tom Burkard: That's
outside my experience.
Q266 Greg Mulholland:
Morning, gentlemen. If I could just go to the substance of the
Government review, the simple figure is 192 bodies being abolished,
a further 188 being merged and 171 being retained but reformed.
Both your organisations have identified further bodies that you
think should be abolished that have survived the review. A very
simple question, has the Government gone far enough here?
In our view the Government has not gone far enough. Particularly,
we think they haven't gone far enough in some of the relatively
large spending bodies, which could have been abolished outright.
That is where the biggest value in terms of savings comes, if
you can find the body that spends many millions a year and cut
them out entirely. Our view is that could have been done with
a number of bodies that have multi-million pound budgetsthe
Carbon Trust, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and several
others could have been outright abolished. Some of those are
under review as to their status and function. Our view is the
Government could and should have taken a more robust approach
to identifying bodies that are doing workequally, some
of the bodies that have had their responsibilities transferred.
The Regional Development Agencies are being transferred into
Local Enterprise Partnerships. In our view, that function would
have been better off simply abolished.
Tom Burkard: In
my experience, one of the problems we had was uncovered when we
were doing our research on school quangos and cutting the Children's
Plan. We were looking at the problem from two angles. One, we
were looking at it from the standpoint of the major school quangos,
14 of them in total. Second, we were looking at it from the standpoint
of the various initiatives that these quangos were called upon
to implement. One of the things that we feel is that probably
the most difficult problem is the concept of integrated delivery.
The example of this was the Family Intervention Programme, which
was run by both the Home Office and the DCSF as it was then.
It also involved 11 quangos and obviously it also involved private,
charitable and other third-sector organisations in all 150 local
authorities. The amount of duplication that was going on here
was phenomenal. The Family Intervention Programme in itself was
criticised. I believe that was because of the fact that it was
duplicating existing social provision in a lot of areas. Even
though we now have greater financial transparency, the problem
we have is that we don't know what quangos are involved in what
programmes and what their role in it is.
When we were researching the Children's Plan, we
had to contact quangos and other charities and third-sector organisations
that were involved in this, and we found it was often very difficult
to find anyone who even knew that their organisation was playing
a part in this initiative, let alone what their role was. I feel
this is an area where the various Select Committees in the relevant
areas should be playing a greater role in trying to find out exactly
what these various quangos are doing. I think that there should
be some sort of provision for transparency similar to what we
have in terms of finance, in terms of what the quangos and the
third-sector organisations are actually doing.
Q267 Greg Mulholland: Leading
on from that, do you think there is potentially a flaw in the
Tom Burkard: Could
you speak up a little bit?
Chair: You have to speak
Greg Mulholland: Do you
think there is a flaw in the remit of the Government's review
in that, as I've said, some functions are simply being transferred
to Departments; others are being retained in a merged or reformed
organisation. But do you think the Government has failed to use
the review to evaluate what functions the state should be performing
in the first place?
Tom Burkard: I
am not entirely sure. We certainly looked at the remit letters
that were given to the heads of quangos by the Children's Secretary,
and we found that these were very sketchy and they really did
not reflect the reality as to what the quangos were actually doing.
In other words, the remit letters were very general and they
left huge amounts of leeway for individual quangos to decide effectively
that they could engage in as much mission creep as they wanted.
So the remit given to many NDPBs is simply too vague? That's
what you're saying.
Tom Burkard: I
would agree, yes.
I think if you were to look at the frame of the review, there
are two issues. The first is the scale of the undertaking and
the speed of it. That is very good news in terms of getting action
early in the Government where there are willing to take bold action
on this sort of issue. I think that did mean that they were too
wary of asking, "Is this a function that should be pursued
by Government?" rather than, "Is this a function that
should be pursued by a quango?" Beyond that I think they
excluded some bodies that should have been included. Bodies where
there are definitional issues only that separate them from other
quangos, like the Carbon Trust, which is a particularly important
example if we are looking at the issue of accountability because
it is by some marginit and a few bodies like itthe
least accountable of the public bodies.
Q269 Greg Mulholland:
We are going to come back to accountability in a minute. This
is a question particularly for the TaxPayers' Alliance: do you
fear that of those quango functions that are being transferred
straight into Government Departments that the bureaucracy associated
with them will just follow into the Department and there won't
really be any cut in that red tape?
Absolutely. I think there are some cases where it looks very
much like these organisations will move desks but not lose the
attached bureaucracy. In other cases they may be able to get
more of a bureaucratic saving, particularly the Film Council.
That is a case where they should have been asking more about
whether that function was legitimate or notwhether funding
the film industry is a good idea. In terms of saving on the bureaucracy
of it, handing that off to the BFI is a reasonable way of cutting
the bureaucratic spend.
Q270 Charlie Elphicke:
Your reports on public bodies mentioned the problem posed by taxpayer-funded
lobbying, which we finished up with in the last evidence session.
What exactly are your concerns and how do you think they can
Taxpayer-funded lobbying is extremely pernicious for a number
of reasons. It biases political decision making in favour of
those with existing political or bureaucratic power. It therefore
acts to entrench the status quo and prevent new thinking, and
it dilutes other democratic involvement, and therefore it will
increase political apathy. It is a very bad thing. There have
been some good steps taken in this regard, particularly in the
Local Government Departments. That needs to be extended to other
Departments. The hiring of lobbyists by central Government is
fundamentally illegitimate. At the same time, they need to look
at internal communications and political budgets. The other thing
that needs to be done, which hasn't been focused on enough, is
other political spending. They can achieve this objective of
driving their political interests by paying a lobbyistby
paying the Weber Shandwicks of this worldor they can do
it by funding a campaign. For example, you are funding for charities
like the Campaign for Better Transport or Demos. Our last survey
suggested that the Demos think-tank was receiving over £500,000
a year. Huge amounts of money go into political groups, and that
doesn't fall within the rubric of lobbying but is still quangos
using their authority and their budget to promote their political
agenda, which in our view is again fundamentally illegitimate
and action should be taken on that area as well.
Q271 Charlie Elphicke:
Taking the example of the UK Film Council episode, would you highlight
that as a case that is inherently undesirable?
I think there are lots of cases. One we've seen that was particularly
unfortunate was the Regional Development Agencies and their presence
at party conferences. They spent a lot of money£250,000,
that order of magnitudeattending party conferences in 2008.
I think the only way you can properly interpret that is that
they were there defending their role and their existence, which
is not how they should be spending taxpayers' money. The taxpayer
has no interest in that.
Q272 Charlie Elphicke:
So sponsoring an exhibition at a party conference, you would say
is an abuse of public money?
I would say absolutely it is an abuse of public money.
Q273 Charlie Elphicke: Taking
the case where a quango instructs a public affairs outlet like
Bell Pottinger to press their case with public money, is that
an abuse of public money?
It is absolutely an abuse of public money to hire lobbyists to
promote their political interests.
Q274 Charlie Elphicke:
Where members of the quango board itself are financially conflicted
and stand to benefit financially if the lobbying were to be successful,
would you say that is an abuse of public money?
I would say that is particularly abusive of public money.
Q275 Charlie Elphicke:
Do you think that should be an offence?
I think that the best thing to do would be simply to look at the
example of things like the Byrd Amendment in the United States.
The Byrd Amendment isn't complete and isn't sufficient, so you
wouldn't want to drop it wholesale into British statuteyou
would want to be stronger than the Byrd Amendment, which was watered
down in Congressbut something along the lines of the Byrd
Amendment simply to prohibit lobbying with taxpayers' money would
be a very good thing.
Q276 Charlie Elphicke:
Should it be regulated or banned?
Q277 Robert Halfon:
Just to give another example, the Information Commission, which
has come under fire in recent weeks for lack of doing what it
is supposed to do, has, it emerged through a written question
that I tabled, spent between £10 million and £13 million
on PR and internal communications over the last few years. Do
you think that is an abuse of taxpayers' money?
I think a substantial portion of that will have been an abuse
of taxpayers' money. There is a need to maintain communications
within staff; if that is running a corporate intranet and things
like that, it is part of running an organisation, but I would
expect that a substantial portion of that is being spent on PR
and publicity, and is illegitimate and is an abuse of taxpayers'
Q278 Robert Halfon:
Do you think that it should be banned completely?
I think that is harder to ban. With external PR, you have a clear,
identifiable amount and you have expense on political consultancies.
Internally it is harder to police, but that obviously doesn't
mean that it can be neglected, because otherwise you just encourage
people to bring this in-house. I think that will be a matter
for proper monitoring through spending and HR transparency, and
trying to stop it. I am not sure how one would do that.
Perhaps use of the Civil Service code.
Q280 Mr Walker:
Do you think recruitment to senior public posts should be more
transparentthe most senior postsbearing in mind
that it is normally the great and the good applying for these
jobs, and the chosen candidate emerges, who invariably is part
of the great and the good, but we never get to see who he was
up against. We may not even need the names, but it would be nice
to know who made it down to the final shortlist of four so we
can check that the taxpayer got best value for money.
There is some grandstanding, but I think Senate scrutiny as in
the United States is still the kind of thing that we would want
to have. I think that it is a matter for proper political scrutiny
to look at who is being appointed to these bodies before they
are appointed. You can put in place regulatory controls to avoid
outright abuses, but often it is not about outright abuses; often,
it is about whether the person is the best candidate. Is this
person going to take the body in the direction in which we want
it to be taken? For that reason, I think that scrutiny through
Parliament is absolutely essential for those bodies that need
Q281 Mr Walker:
It just strikes me that, when they retire, the great and the good
in the Civil Service are enormously successful at securing other
jobs that ensure they retain their status as part of the great
and the good.
I think the problem with the argument that the quango model allows
us to get people of real expertise to run these organisations
is that you have people whose expertise is in running quangos,
not people who have technical expertise in the particular area
they are working in. There are plenty of examples of people running
through numerous quangos; the Charity Commission would be one
of them. There are people whose expertise is in being a quangocrat.
We then dispatch them to Brussels a lot of the time. That puts
the lie to the idea that quangos are really about sourcing expertise
and about getting people who really know the industry, because
often I think they don't.
Q282 Lindsay Roy:
Are there any quangocrats who are successful leaders in your view
or in your experience?
In our experience, I think that some organisations are run better
than others and that reflects well on their leaders. I think that
Q283 Lindsay Roy:
Can you give some examples? Purpose and direction?
I think that over time Ofgem has been one of the better-run quangos.
I think that they have been relatively open and have done a relatively
good job at running the market. I think the unfortunate thing
is that they have been saddled with a policy agenda that is widely
contradictory. I think that is one example I would say of a quango
that probably does need some kind of independent regulation and
is relatively well run.
Q284 Lindsay Roy:
How do you feel in terms of scope for further NDPB conversion
into mutuals, charities and businesses, and what the main inhibitors
I think the main inhibitor to moving some of these bodies out
of the public sector is a sense that Government should do something
about that. There is a sense that there is a problem with school
food so Government should be doing something about that, whereas
obviously the pressure for better school food should have been
coming from the media, from the charitable sector and from parents.
The problem was largely the result of central Government interference
in the first place. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission
is essentially campaigning to defend the Human Rights Act, and
that political campaign is properly the objective of civil society
groups, not of Government. There is a sense that if something
is important Government should get involved. I think that is
what causes a lot of these bodies to be created when they shouldn't.
Q285 Lindsay Roy:
Ironically there is a high degree of conservatism here.
Q286 Robert Halfon:
Originally, when the quango cull was announced it was heralded
as the bonfire of the quangos and there would be huge value for
money for the taxpayer, and it seems to be more like lighting
a damp box of matches in some ways. The Government seem to have
moved away from value for money to it all being about accountability.
What is your view about that?
I don't want to be churlish, because when there have been previous
promises of a bonfire of the quangos over a number of decades,
they have amounted to less, so it is not the most egregious failure
to build a proper bonfire after you've promised one. I think
there hasn't been a sufficiently aggressive fire. The value for
money side of it is important. In the context of things like
the welfare budget, it can be easy to look at it and think the
amounts are small, but they are not, because these are amounts
that don't play into ordinary household budgetsergo any
saving you can make here lessens the pain of the fiscal adjustment
and is very important. Anyone who has tried to put together a
package of cuts that would add up to a substantial amountcertainly
we found thiswithout getting rid of some of the larger
quangos, which are the ones which haven't been touchedas
you say, haven't been hit enough in this reviewwill find
it very hard to make those sums add up without putting what may
be an untenable burden on household budgets. That is why more
of these quangos need to be abolished.
Tom Burkard: What
I wanted to add here is that one of the things we have to be aware
of is that previous culls of quangos have just resulted in new
quangos emerging from the ashes and this gets us absolutely nowhere;
it is a waste of money. If you have functions merely absorbed
into the Department, even though you may have formal accountability,
if that Department is badly run and chaotic, such as the DCSF
and now the DfE, you are not really getting anywhere. To give
you an example of how transparency in the Department can operate,
in 2006, when I was writing a report on illiteracy, we wanted
to get information from what was then the DfES on how many pupils
were in each year cohort of pupils. I phoned the DfES or whatever
it was and posed the question, and the person that I talked to
said they would get back to me. Just to add, as a belt and braces
thing, my editor also phoned them and spoke to someone else.
The person I spoke to came back with the information within a
couple of weeks and this information was duly published in the
Centre for Policy Studies publication. My editor later received
another phone call from the person he'd talked to, who said he'd
just found the requested information in our pamphlet. When you
have that sort of problem going on in Departments, we have to
be aware of the solution of shoving everything into the Department.
It may be accountable and I think this is a good thing, but if
the information is not there and we don't have means of making
the Departments transparent, we're not really achieving anything.
Robert Halfon: That is
a very good point.
Just on your point about how the cull of the quangos all of a
sudden became about accountability, if that's the case, it really
didn't go far enough. One of the witnesses earlier was saying
that a lot of these bodies are introduced by statute. Yes, that
makes that notionally accountable to Parliament, but in terms
of annual scrutiny of these public bodies, we need to see far
more of that. If the cull of the quangos is all of a sudden about
accountability, it has not gone far enough at all.
Q288 Robert Halfon:
To give one example, I'm delighted that the Government are getting
rid of the East of England Development Agency, which you touched
upon earlier, but then we have in its place these new Local Enterprise
Partnerships, which seem to be even bigger. Is that not going
from the frying pan and into the fire? Why are we getting rid
of one quango to replace it with another, when the LEP could quite
easily be done by local businesses and local councils working
together with people like the FSB and the Chamber of Commerce
and so on?
We've seen how Local Enterprise Partnerships are promoting themselves
to businesses to get business involvement. What they do is they
write and say, "Get involved in this. It's the only way
we'll get hold of grants." They become entirely a machine
for chasing grant incometaxpayers' money chasing taxpayers'
moneyas a result of the fact that there's no need for that
co-ordination function. We have this idea in our heads that local
authorities are small; they're not. Most Britons live in a local
authority areaat the county as opposed to the district
levelthat is larger than most Swiss Cantons, which are
effectively self-governing. Local authorities aren't that small.
Most of the public live in big counties, and if they need to
co-ordinate, they can talk to each other and they do. So what
you have with Local Enterprise Partnerships is money chasing money.
What the Government should have done with Regional Development
Agencies is look at this and say, "Is it sensible to take
businesses' money in taxes and then give it back to a politically
or bureaucratically selected few in grants?" All they do
is recycle that money. That grant money isn't new money; it's
coming out of their taxes.
But there's an open secret isn't there? This is about organisations
that can tap EU funds isn't it?
In terms of the tapping of EU funds, first, councils are doing
it, so there is a duplication there. Councils don't need European
offices, but a lot of them have European offices. To the extent
they don't have them, that's because someone else in the council
is doing that. If they're being used as a device to chase EU
money, they'd be a lot better off acknowledging that and setting
up regional EUchasing bodies, not churning billions of pounds
of British taxpayers' money through them. The amount we're putting
into these bodiesthe billions pounds of funding they're
receivingis a very large solution to a very small problem
of how you get hold of EU grants.
Q290 Robert Halfon:
Do you agree that LEPs will be the Diet Coke version of the Development
Agenciesa bit lighter but full of quango rubbish nevertheless?
They're Diet Coke you've spilled all over the table. They're
milder, but they're also going to be messier.
Q291 Robert Halfon:
As far as the transition costs go, some of these quangos have
been merged into Departments, as has been discussed. Do you think
those transitions costs will be big and that we won't save money
for the taxpayer at all?
It will depend on what you're trying to do with the quango. If
you're abolishing it, they'll be relatively small; you'll have
redundancy but that will quickly be recouped over time. If you're
trying to create new bodies, that'll be when it's really expensive
because that's when you have to establish the new bureaucracyand
expensive in terms of ministerial time as much as anything and
getting these things established. One of the reasons why it is
important to look for bodies you can abolish outright is because
that reduces the burden they impose on everyone elseDepartments,
Ministers, businessesand you also take out those administrative
functions. Every quango has its office and its HR department,
and that's one of the reasons why getting rid of some entirely
is particularly valuable compared with getting rid of a small
fraction of the number in budgetary terms.
Tom Burkard: If
I could add one thing to that, my feeling is that one of the biggest
obstacles to the abolition of quangos, or shall we say more precisely
the functions that the quangos fulfil, is political. To give
legitimacy to the process of downsizing the operations of the
quangos, as opposed to the quangos themselves, the Commons Select
Committees have a big role not only in determining what the operation
of the quango is so they know exactly how to go about dismantling
it, but in giving a certain amount of legitimacy to Ministeriallike
actions, as it were.
If you take a look at what has happened in education,
so far Michael Gove has implemented a pretty large percentage
of the recommendations that we have made, both in terms of cutting
quangos and cutting initiatives, but it has come at a huge cost
as we have seen over Building Schools for the Future. I believe
that if this process were done in a more measured way, with Commons
Select Committees evaluating quangos and initiatives both and
deciding which ones they could recommend to go, the whole process
would be much more orderly and would have much greater potential
to offer longterm savings as opposed to just churning things
as we often have now.
Q292 Robert Halfon:
My final question is about democratic accountability of quangos.
Chair: I think we're moving
on to accountability later on.
Robert Halfon: Just a
quick one because I have to go. Previous witnesses have said
you can't make quangos accountable. Could we not have a model,
just as we're going to be electing other authorities, police commissioners
and so on, where you can make these bodies where people stand
for them and would have some kind of mandate?
It's difficult to imagine how you would do that on a national
level because a national referendum is an extremely expensive
thing. You have 1,148 of the things and it just becomes untenable.
For some roles, that could be worth while. You can equally have
a short form of it through parliamentary scrutiny of the bodies
that are coming up and then you can have important scrutiny through
Chair: Right, we'll move
to Mr Heyes on the question of accountability.
Q293 David Heyes:
One of the things that has happened under this rhetoric that we're
culling quangos is that lots of functions have just been moved
back into Departments to be controlled by civil servants, which
is a little ironic when at the same time the Government is claiming
to be culling the Civil Service. It looks a bit like senior civil
servants are making sure that they have functions under their
control to justify their continued existence. We've talked about
accountability a number of times already. Is it not a serious
concern from the point of view of accountability that what has
happened as a result of what the Government has done, ostensibly
in the name of accountability, has served to reduce accountability?
I don't think so. You don't have that ability to blame an outside
body when things go wrong. It is not possible for the type of
thing that happened to QCDA recently to happen if these things
are within a Department. That doesn't mean that being within
a Department solves the issue or is the right solution for every
body, but it would be wrong to say that quangos are more accountable
than Departments. Departments are clearly more accountable; they
have a political accountability that quangos, in the main, do
Q294 David Heyes:
I don't think Mr Burkard agrees with you. He was nodding in assent
to what I was saying.
Tom Burkard: Let's
put it this way: the QCDA example that was quoted was certainly
an example where the quango officials were the ones who had to
a fall on their swords and obviously the Ministry went unscathed.
It is difficult to say how much this was due to personalities,
because one looks at what happened to Estelle Morris the first
time this problem reared its head. She did the honourable thing,
but unfortunately, when it was Ed Balls who was the Secretary
of State, he made sure that it was the quangocrats who went.
So it's not possible to make any official judgments as to how
the form of organisation is going to affect accountability, even
though I strongly believe that, ultimately, Ministers should take
responsibility. The example of Ed Balls and the QCDA demonstrates
that sometimes they don't, and that is a political question.
It showed that quangos have been used as a tool to evade that
accountability, which is the danger. Had that role have been
within the Department, you wouldn't have had that ability, ergo
it would increase accountability.
So it allows Ministers to pass the buck?
David Heyes: Indeed yes,
but what about my point about these being opportunities for senior
civil servants to repad their Departments? On one hand
it's being culled to some extent and this bringing in of formerly
external functions allows them to
It doesn't increase the net justification through bureaucracy;
it may shift it into Departments, but it's not increasing it,
so I don't see problem there. If you're no longer justifying
a quango, you're slightly justifying a Department more. I don't
particularly see the harm that does.
Tom Burkard: One
of things it brought to mind is that the QCDA, along with most
other education quangos, was a shadow organisation within the
Department, which worked with the quangos, so there was a duplication
of effort here as well. This is one of the reasons why I feel
that, once again, the process of getting rid of quangos is something
that has to be conducted with consultation outside of the Minister
and the Civil Service, because they are very much interested in
it and I don't think they can be relied upon to give disinterested
judgments in terms of the abolition of quangos and absorbing them
into the Department.
Q296 David Heyes:
But that's an argument to say this whole process has been too
Tom Burkard: I
would tend to agree with that, yes. The fact that the thing was
rushed has a lot to do with political necessity to show that something
has been done, but the fact that it was rushed also meant that
an awful lot of bodies that probably need a lot more scrutiny
haven't received that kind of scrutiny. The process of reorganising
business and trying to minimise the amount of political work that
is being done in quangos is something that should be thought of
as being done over the life of a Parliament, or perhaps even two
Parliaments, because if we try and rush it, we are not going to
find a lasting solution.
The rush is worth while. The real problem with the delay is that
it becomes a tool for it never to happen and, yes, it means that
it hasn't been completedthere are still bodies under review,
there are still bodies that haven't been dealt with that should
have been dealt withbut that means you do it again. The
rush has meant that a lot of stuff has happened.
Well, not a reduction in cost, which is what your organisation's
It's led to a substantial reduction in quangos and some reduction
in cost. There have been bodies taken out. The Sustainable Development
Commission, for example, has had its funding cut outright, so
there have been reductions in cost.
But not as the result of a quango cull. That was the result of
a cut in budgets.
Well, that was part of the quango cull and part of that effort.
It was part of the cut in budgets. The rush and the fact that
you haven't been able to get all of them mean, do it again. There's
no reason why we can't have another round of quango cuts in a
Q299 Lindsay Roy:
So how can we develop a more robust approach to determine whether
a quango should continue or be downsized, or whether it should
be abolished, and how do we monitor the key outcomes and ensure
that the positive developments have continued?
Tom Burkard: The
outcomes are very difficult to measure because, to be quite honest
with you, the outcome of a lot of the quangos we studied is extremely
hard to judge. In terms of ensuring that we have a fair and uniform
method of evaluation, as I said earlier, we need a much better
system of having public information available on all the activities
that the quangos engage in. To give you an idea, when we were
conducting our report on school quangos, it took us an enormous
amount of time to dredge up the ministerial remits and the parliamentary
Acts that, shall we say, legitimised the activities of the quango,
and of course, all the various programmes they have been involved
in. To be quite honest with you, the difficulty we have here
is that we are talking about a research programme that lasted
a year and a half, working with people who had access to a lot
of advice in terms of investigating Government activities. What
hope do other people in this political nation in general have
of trying to get a good grasp of what quangos are doing unless
we have a means of reviewing their activities and have public
information on their websites that gives a lot more information
about their activities and their organisation?
Q300 Lindsay Roy:
Triennial reviews in themselves are not particularly helpful unless
you have robust measurement of outcomes and key objectives that
can be gauged.
Tom Burkard: Take
a look at the outcomes. The one example I would point out is
that we had a good look at the evidence that was given by the
Health Committee on various public health initiatives, and it
turns out that the Committee was very scathing about the evaluation
of programmes that were run. It's much easier to evaluate a programme
than it is an entire quango, which is involved in the integrated
delivery, with many other organisations, of broad progress, but
if you take a look at the programmes themselves, at least you
have a hope of evaluating them. The evidence that the Health
Committee came up with was that some of the evaluations were so
weak that it was more or less a matter of just asking the people
involved what they thought of them. The difficulty you have here
is that when you have a lot of very small initiatives, some only
involving a few million pounds, the cost of you doing a proper
evaluation of these initiatives is prohibitive. You therefore
have a real problem here in determining whether the money is being
spent wisely, simply because you're dealing with such a complex
system of organisation and delivery of services. As I say, at
the Centre for Policy Studies, we had a lot of arguments as to
whether we had to analyse the problem from the standpoint of the
organisations or the initiatives. We ended up doing both.
You cannot come up with a fix for the creation of quangos. They
are created by a statute and it is very hard to restrain that.
What you can do is try and create the conditions such that they
don't serve the functions that they shouldn't be serving, so they
aren't able to be created too quickly too easily and avoid scrutiny.
Ergo what you need is strong parliamentary scrutiny of their
appointments to run them and their budgets while they are in operation,
and then you also need spending transparency such that they can
be properly scrutinised. A few quangos aren't even subject to
Freedom of Information requests. As long as there are bodies
outside the realm of proper scrutiny, that allows improper spending
to continue and then it will essentially be a political task to
control the growth of quangos, because the only way you can control
it in the end is to campaign against or say no to individual proposals.
There is not a fix that can limit their number because of the
way they are created.
More regular parliamentary scrutiny will stop quangos doing things
out of their remit. That was one of the big problems with the
Audit Commissionthey perhaps started creeping outside their
remitand more regular accountability would perhaps put
a stop to that.
Q301 Lindsay Roy:
So without taking a comprehensive review of all quangos, what
you are saying is by and large there needs to be a much greater
rigour and a much more robust approach.
Absolutely, not just budgetary to maintain value for money, but
to stop mission creep.
But surely the tests that Francis Maude announced can be improved
can't they? You need to have some kind of method to evaluate
whether a quango is justified or not.
You'll struggle to find a uniform method. They've come up with
this series of criteria; those criteria are very easy to fudge.
It is very easy to come up with bodies where you really need
independent advice where that advice could come from outside Government.
It is very easy to come up with these kinds of justification.
For that reason, the limits on quangos need to be proper scrutiny
and criticism of them when they go beyond bounds or when they
have been created without good reason. It will be a change in
political attitudes, so when they create a new quango now, generally
a Minister will be asked in the media, "Are you creating
another quango?" That change in the political dynamic will
probably be what restrains the number of quangos over time, not
an attempt to set some kind of rule as to when they can be created.
Chair: Interesting. Mr
Roy, are you finished?
Lindsay Roy: Yes, thank
Q303 Mr Walker:
The delicious irony of this is that, having spent the last 15
years creating quangos that mess up all our constituents' lives,
we've created a quango that's messing up our lives called IPSA,
so we are reaping what we sowed, and deservedly so on occasion.
You are concerned about the use of public money. Are you satisfied
that it is as an effective use of public money for IPSA, for example,
to advertise and recruit an £85,000 Communications Director?
It's quite clear that IPSA have lost control of costs to a certain
extent. However, they have been put in a very difficult position,
which means that they are being asked to do a job where they will
have a lot of unavoidable communications work. They will have
a lot of people asking them questions. It does look like costs
have got too out of hand in each individual area, but it is not
one fundamental error. It is a lot of failures to control costs
Q304 Mr Walker:
You will be aware that the Speaker's Committee for the Independent
Parliamentary Standards Authority, which I am onit is another
sort of Committeehas strongly suggested that their running
costs of £6.5 million are completely over the top and
they should move it towards £2 million, which the House
of Commons Fees Office, with all its faults and flaws, was achieving.
Would you see a significant reduction in IPSA's running costs
as something that they should be looking to achieve?
They should absolutely be looking to reduce their running costs
Q305 Mr Walker:
Yes, Mr Burkard, do you have view on IPSA?
Tom Burkard: I
think I will defer to Matthew here.
But if parliamentarians were to come forward with a substantive
costsaving option for IPSA, is that something that the TaxPayers'
Alliance would support, even if it meant a return to something
more of allowances rather than itemised expenses?
The relatively lowcost way of controlling this problem is
transparency. One suggestion that came out was that all purchases
would be made through a card that would automatically log and
publish the expenditure. The only effective policing of the problems
around expenses is public scrutiny, and it roughly worked in Scotland.
They have a minor kerfuffle each year, but they've never had
a major scandal because it was never secret for an extended period.
That's how the problem has built up in Westminster. Windsor
and Maidenhead Council publish their energy usage almost minute
by minute and people spot when the lights are on. That's not
costing them a lot of money; that kind of thing is very cheap
and very effective compared with the bureaucratic control side
of it, which is much more expensive and much more prone to being
captured by biases once an organisation has worked for too long
with the same groupings, because it is much more prone to regulatory
Chair: Thank you very
much indeed for your contributions to our Committee's hearing
today. It has been extremely useful and it was helpful that we
had some people from outside the system, rather than just people
inside the system, giving us their views. Thank you very much