Monday, 24 June 2013

Time for OFMAUDE?

Every so often, the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude suddenly appears in the limelight, makes a statement, and then disappears until it’s his turn again.

It reminds me of one of those low budget horror movies, where ‘the body’ awakes, lifts the lid, rises from the coffin, sucks the lifeblood out of the gullible public, and then returns to the box until the next time.

Mr Maude’s appearances inevitably feature his latest slippery statement on the government’s performance in delivering on its promised ‘bonfire of the quangos’.

You may suggest that I’m being unkind in the use of the word ‘slippery’. But, each time Mr Maude speaks, he redefines the issues, claims success, and disappears before he can properly be held to account. The National Audit Office critically says that there is no system in place to measure any savings or the service impact of these quango changes.

For instance, when Mr Maude claimed he’d abolished 106 quangos, a detailed analysis showed it was just 45. When he claims that he’s abolished quangos, he’s often done nothing of the sort.

My favourite example concerns the announcement that the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances (ACHS) – a quango - had been “abolished” in the morning, only to discover that a Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee (HSAC) – somehow re-defined as not a quango, but to do exactly the same job - had been established in the afternoon! Classic Yes Minister.

And then Mr Maude conveniently forgets all the new quangos that his government is busily creating. The completely unnecessary and costly top-down NHS reorganization is creating hundreds of new quangos. The NHS Commissioning Board alone will have over 3,000 staff and an annual budget of £80 billion.

The Education Secretary keeps announcing new quangos, although he calls them academies or free schools. Last month’s Queen’s Speech produced another 6 new quangos, including OFNUKE – a new nuclear energy regulator – and OFSHOP – a new supermarket regulator.

Perhaps the Government should create an OFMAUDE – a regulator who would prevent Mr Maude making any statement about quangos unless the contents had been independently verified?