Academics warn against UKIP anti-quango rhetoric

Houses of ParliamentA team of academics at the Universities of Sheffield and Birmingham are highlighting the danger of anti-quango rhetoric following UKIP’s response to the Chancellor’s spending review.

In response to the coalition’s proposed cuts, UKIP announced an intention to ‘save tens of billions...by culling the quangos, challenging foreign aid and holding fake charities to account’.

This builds upon previous criticism from UKIP that the Government could save £4 billion a month by cutting quangos. However, research from the team of academics shows that UKIP’s proposal is flawed.

Professor Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics asserted that politician’s anti-quango rhetoric is over-simplistic and rarely leads to far-reaching change.

He said: “Quangos are a vital form of Government which deliver and regulate a range of services. Whilst quango-bashing is a common pastime for politicians, in reality they rarely deliver substantive changes as most quangos are fulfilling essential functions. From DVLA, the BBC, Ordinance Survey and the Student Loans Company most people will have contact with and benefit from quangos”.

In addition the research team has questioned UKIP’s ability to deliver substantive savings from scrapping quangos.

Dr Katharine Dommett, also of the University of Sheffield's Department of Politics, said: “Whilst closing quangos sounds simple, it is far from straight-forward. Successive governments have attempted to deliver savings through quango reform but have achieved little. This is because whilst quangos are publically unpopular their functions remain important to the smooth running of the state. If a quango is closed, then central Government nearly always end up performing the task.”

Since 2010 the coalition Government have conducted their own extensive public bodies review, resulting in the closure of 130 bodies, and the merger of more than 150 bodies into fewer than 70. This has reportedly produced a saving of £2.6 billion. However, this figure has been publically disputed by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee.

The research team have also discovered that many of the functions previously being conducted by abolished quangos are now being performed by Government departments, resulting in limited savings. For example, the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s services, Partnerships for Schools, the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Young People’s Learning Agency have all been drawn back into the department as executive agencies, resulting in limited financial savings.

Additional information

The research is available to download here: Public Bodies Reform Research

UKIPs response to the spending review can be found here: UKIP newsroom
Previous examples of UKIPs anti-quango rhetoric are available here: Money Marketing
For more detail on the coalition governments reforms see Public Bodies 2012.
For criticism of the Coalition government’s public bodies reform agenda and its proposed savings see the NAO report Reorganising Central Government Bodies and the Public Administration Select Committees report Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State.

About the Research Team

Professor Matthew Flinders and Dr Katharine Dommett (University of Sheffield) and Professor Chris Skelcher and Dr Katie Tonkiss (University of Birmingham) are conducting a three year ESCR research project entitled ‘Shrinking the State’ which examines the impact of the Coalition Government’s programme of public body reform.

For more information see: The Shrinking State

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