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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Damp squib or bonfire

It used to be said that Wales was the land of Quangos. Under the Tories we had more quangocrats per head than any other part of the UK. It was the scandal around the existence of these bodies and the allegation that they were being used as a part of a colonial government that partly drove the campaign to set up the Welsh Assembly. Now that we are slowly dismantling these structures and allegedly democratising Welsh government the biggest growth area has become cliches.

Reaction to yesterday's announcement that three more major Quangos are to be abolished has been hyperbolic. Plaid Cymru's leader told the First Minister that, "You said that we were going to have a bonfire of the quangos, but it is obvious that you have left your matchbox at home." Tory leader, Nick Bourne was obviously feeling hungry. He called the statement a "dog's dinner not to mention a pig's breakfast." The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader said that, "This squib isn't so much damp, as positively soaking wet."

Mike German raised the very valid point of scrutiny. He questioned how AMs and subject committees would be able to scrutinise any bodies which have been taken in to the Assembly Government. At present committees can call in quango bosses to answer questions, but civil servants can only answer questions through the relevant Assembly Minister. He continued, "You have acted like the Grand Old Duke of York, First Minister. You marched up to the top of the hill, and now you are climbing down."

The press officer responsible for Mike's statement though, did get carried away, pronouncing that "The NHS in Wales needs another re-organisation like a whole (sic) in the head."

There are a lot of unanswered questions about this reorganisation. Most of them centre on cost and scrutiny. It may be that we will resolve these issues in due course, but I cannot help but feel that if the Pop factory scandal had reared its head after ELWa had been taken into the Government, then we would not have got the same number of answers, would not have been able to scrutinise it so thoroughly and would not have been able to hold anyone to account for it in the same way.

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