United Kingdom: Run by unelected ‘quangocrats’

In Britain a movement is afoot to purge the country of quangos, the “quasi-autonomous non-government organizations” that handle much of the nation's day-to-day governing.

No wonder the British Parliament can’t get anything done, said Edward Heathcoat Amory in the London Daily Mail. It has hardly any power anymore. Most of the day-to-day governing of this country has been outsourced to the unelected bodies known as “quasi-autonomous non-government organizations,” or quangos. Since the 1980s, we’ve created more than 1,000 of them, spending billions of pounds of taxpayer money, according to a report released last week. These bodies decide everything from how much our farmers should be paid (the Agricultural Wages Board) to which low-income students should go to university (the Office for Fair Access) and the medicines available at the National Health Service (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence). “Some are a pointless bureaucratic intrusion, others actively damaging, and many simply overlap with each other.” Conservative opposition leader David Cameron this week proposed a purge of the quangos. “It’s long, long overdue.”

But it won’t be easy, said Simon Carr in the London Independent. Politicians love to demonize quangos, but they also depend on them. Quangos are “very handy for passing the buck.” Whenever tough decisions have to be made, the government sets up new bodies and “pays them big public money to take the heat.” Even Cameron, in his press conference this week calling for a “bonfire of the quangos,” fell back on the old quango dodge. When a reporter asked him if it would be easier to save money by just freezing the pay of government employees, Cameron was unwilling to alienate those millions of voters. So he punted, saying, “Pay review bodies are there to look at this.” Those bodies, of course, are quangos, set up “to shield politicians” from the responsibility of cutting wages.

That is why they are so pervasive, said Elizabeth Truss in the London Guardian. It’s much easier to create a new quango and be seen as “doing something” than it is to kill an old one, destroying the jobs that go with it. “Like abandoned space stations, left to drift while the new model is developed, previous governments’ quangos have created unappealing debris across the public sector.” As they proliferate, they rob us of our democracy. Our elected leaders can’t change anything “if all of their key decision-making powers are in the hands of bodies they can’t touch.”

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We all agree, then, said Anne Treneman in the London Times. All of Britain is solidly behind Cameron’s proposal. Kill the quangos! So which ones will die first? Cameron refused to say. He wants to “devise a quango virility test to see if what each does has actual merit.” It sounds like a good idea, except that it will surely require a new quango to create and apply the test. We may be doomed to live forever in “a dystopia full of quasi-organizations that breed without control, their bosses on bloated pay, their costs climbing skyward.”

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