In the UK there are estimated to be 1162 Quango’s with an annual combined budget of £64 billion, with approximately 700,000 bureaucrats employed.
In 2003, the Government announced they would print the full list of Quango’s, but 6 years later, that list is still yet to be seen.
The Learning and skills council employs 3,700 staff and has an annual budget of over £10 billion.
In July 2003, the Select Committee on Public Administration found that only one in six Quango’s run by central government were subject to regulation. Very significantly, appointments to most local Quango’s are not regulated at all, other than those to NHS bodies, and these tend to be filled by word of mouth within business, political and other networks.
Gordon Brown promised a ‘…bonfire of the Quango’s…’ before Labour came to power, claiming that they were ‘..often government in secret, free from full public scrutiny…’. But 13 out of 16 Whitehall departments failed to reduce their spending on Quango’s and seven departments have created new ones, with more in the pipeline.
Let’s look specifically at why the Learning Skills Council is a good example of why Quango’s are rotten.
According to Sir Andrew Foster’s government-commissioned review:
LSC were responsible for running the Building Colleges for the Future programme. The LSC had approved £2.5billion of capital projects proposed by further education colleges, but then deferred final approval after realising it did not have the money for the projects.
As a result of the initial approval, some of the Colleges started to spend the money on their projects, with buildings being gutted or demolished prior to the LSC announcing their ‘mistake’. In total 144 colleges have been affected by this abject failure. As a further damning indictment, it has been suggested that these problems were known as long ago as February 2008, yet the LSC continued to approve projects.A share of the blame sits squarely with John Denham, who is the Minister responsible for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. But of course as a Quango Denham insists it really is nothing to do with him.
The Government’s decision to abolish the LSC from next year, and to separate the Department for Education into two departments covering schools and universities, is partly to blame according to Foster, who added:
‘Preoccupation with organisational change distracted attention from core ongoing business…people took their eyes off the ball…’
Local LSC teams actively solicited projects from colleges and worked with college principals to turn more proposals into wholesale upgrading.
The TLA culture of Qango’s is quite overwhelming. The LSC BCF is expected to be transferred to the PSC BSF.
In real language this means:
In a wonderful Governmental twist the colleges affected by the failed BCF (Building Colleges for the future programme) could find themselves being transferred to yet another Quango: the Partnership for Schools, who run another building project budget called, Building Schools for the Future.
In another LSC failure
The LSC has also failed to calculate the numbers of students moving in to six forms colleges, which has led to chronic underfunding.The Department for Children, Schools and Families, under Ed Balls, introduced legislation to raise the education leaving age from 16 to 18, yet failed to give schools and colleges the money they needed to make these reforms a reality. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, was unable to explain why neither his department nor LSC managed to work out that pupil numbers would rise. It is expected that this shortfall will affect 35 000 students.
The LSC’s projections were that the numbers of 16 to 18 year olds in colleges in England (786,000) would be the same next year as this, and the numbers staying on in sixth forms would fall from 383,000 to 372,000.
A letter sent out by the LSC at the beginning of March had appeared to say that schools would be funded in line with their predicted rise in student numbers for next year. In a statement, the LSC said: ‘..It is clear that our letter of March 2 to schools has caused them confusion and concern, for which we apologise….’
We have Government departments making policy decisions and failing to understand the ramifications and Quango’s, for which there is no democratic accountability, wasting billions of pounds of money. Yet no Government Minister is going to take responsibility for the farrago of capital projects or under funding of sixth for colleges and schools.