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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another bonfire needed

Our friends, the Taxpayers Alliance have just produced another report entitled 'The unseen Government of the UK'. As the Sunday Times records this concludes that the cost of Britain’s “hidden state” of unelected public bodies has soared to more than £100 billion a year.

This is not necessarily a bad thing provided that Government is able to demonstrate that the money is being well-spent to provide essential public services, that the way it is being spent is transparent and that there is a clear line of accountability, which accomodates proper scrutiny by MPs. Alas, the Taxpayers Alliance report casts doubt on all of these aims.

For example they tell us that while £85m is given to the 126 staff of the Carbon Trust to advise businesses and government bodies on becoming low carbon, £22m is handed over to Envirowise to do almost exactly the same thing. There is also a third body, the Energy Saving Trust, which advises homeowners on reducing their carbon footprint. With 142 staff, it costs £43.2m.

In addition, the Food Standards Agency extols the health benefits of a low-fat diet and yet millions are being spent on food promotion bodies that implore the public to eat more sausages and chips.

We have been through this debate already in Wales. The so-called 'Bonfire of the Quangos' finally materialised when Rhodri Morgan took a decision and subsumed them into government. However, many of the promised savings did not materialise, government departments suddenly became overwhelmed with surplus staff they did not know what to do with and the ability of Assembly Committee's to properly scrutinise the actions of the newly merged departments turned out to be much less than when they were stand-alone bodies with an unelected board.

That does not mean that the UK Government should not try to get greater efficiencies and accountability out of its own Quango state, just that it should take note of the Welsh experience in doing so.
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