07 January 2011

Following PASC's report on the government's 'bonfire of the quangos', the focus must now be on managing the transition or demise of affected arm's length bodies – with the interests of the public in mind.

We’ve produced our report, Read Before Burning. We had in the autumn the results of the Government review. Today, we heard coruscating criticism from the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) of the way the government carried out its review.

There seems to be a deal of unhelpful emotion creeping into this debate – words like "absurd" (a Cabinet Office spokesman, responding to the Select Committee’s claim, in its turn, that the Government’s review was "botched"). Even some of the commentators are affected, occasionally allowing personal agendas to skew their normal objectivity.

So  where next?

Well, let's hope that the government takes notice of what we and the PASC have in our different ways said:

  • there is much work still to be done with arm's length bodies (or quangos, if you must)
  • a simpler structure needs to be introduced
  • the government has made a frank admission that the savings once trailed simply aren’t there
  • and above all - a positive look forward is needed to help those organisations which are for the chop manage their demise effectively.

Why this matters should be obvious. All these organisations are there to serve the public. They are staffed by public servants who deserve better than to be pawns in some numbers game played out on the murky chessboard of low politics.

That quangos haven’t managed to get their message across about the valuable job many of them do isn’t their fault. Look instead at successive governments and their advisors who for various reasons have invented reasons to keep functions at arm's length without much thought to how this will play out in the public mind.

Transitions must be made with the public in mind

Service to the public doesn't seem to be recognised enough, whether from organisations set up to:

  • offer an independent perspective to government (the Office for Budget Responsibility)
  • deliver essential services (legal aid)
  • offer expert and valued advice (the Migration Advisory Committee) .

Now, let government and others concentrate on managing the transition or demise of these functions as effectively as possible – with the interests of consumers in mind. The Select Committee helpfully set out its transition guidance. We've published, together with the Public Chairs' Forum (PCF), our own practical guide to transition.

Let the debate concentrate on sorting out the future, quickly and effectively, in the interests of government, people trying to do their best in difficult circumstances, and above all, the public.