Observations Body Politic

This is no way to cull the quangos

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5615 (Published 12 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5615
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

Is the government’s rule for assessing quangos at odds with the philosophy of the “big society”?

Do you know what the Tories’ notion of “big society” means? Me neither, but I have the vague idea that it aims to recruit people to serve—voluntarily or for modest rewards—as good citizens, giving their time to improve government and the delivery of services.

People such as the members of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens or the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, perhaps? Or the Expert Advisory Committee on AIDS? No, it can’t mean any of those, as they are all being abolished.

“I volunteer, you serve, they set up a quango” seems to be the way the coalition government conjugates the issue. When new ministers take office, quangos are first in line for the axe because they fall outside direct political control, are often in the hands of the last government’s trusties, and nobody can quite remember why they were set up in the first place.

The process is not an unhealthy one. If left unpruned, quangos would spread like rhododendrons, individually displaying exotic blooms but collectively blighting the scenery. The whole of government ought to be subject to the same brutal husbandry but seldom is. Times …

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