Cuts Watch #252: Quangos
Today’s leaked news of plans to abolish 180 quangos, merge 124 and substantially reform another 56 has left many people worrying about what is going to happen to the functions they carry out. The BBC has a full list, with a very brief description of what will happen to each. Some especially troubling examples include:
- The Security Industry Authority, which regulates the private security industry, This is simply to be abolished, leaving it unclear what arrangements will be put in place for licensing private security firms. Private contractors running CCTV monitoring in public spaces, contractors with powers to immobilise vehicles and nightclub bouncers should all be supervised in an accountable way, and there a very reasonable questions to be asked about how this will be done in future. SIA also has an important role in raising the employment and service standards of the industry, and the GMB has pointed out that there are a third of a million security workers with valid SIA licenses across the UK. GMB reminds us that licensing was introduced “to keep out crooks, drug dealers and those convicted of criminal assaults to protect the public and create decent standards in the industry. If the security licensing authority is removed it will hit decent employers, it will expose the public to unnecessary risks and will undoubtedly end in tears and in the courts.” The SIA itself employs 147 staff.
- The School Support Staff Negotiating Body, representing employers and unions, which is absolutely vital to implementing the 2003 workforce agreement that addressed teachers’ workload and the skills and responsibilities of school support staff. UNISON points out that half a million (mainly low paid) workers will be affected and has demanded that the government should carry out an Equality Impact Assessment.
- The Independent Living Fund’s functions are to be devolved to local authorities and there are fears that new applicants will be banned. This would mean that the ILF – which makes it possible for 21,000 disabled people with severe impairments to live independently – will gradually fade away. The ILF employs 250 people directly.
- The Disability Employment Advisory Committee, which provides specialist expert advice to the government on the employment of disabled people. This function is to be transferred to Equality 2025, which provides strategic advice on disability equality. Whether Equality 2025 is in a position to provide the detailed operational advice that has been DEAC’s forte is another matter. If this capacity is lost it would be a great shame, especially as a review of DEAC, published as recently as this March, found that “there remains a need for an organisation to provide expert advice, in confidence, on disability and employment … DEAC is considered effective as it has a positive impact on policy-making and offers good value for money; it is relatively low cost, has members with evident expertise and continues to be pro-actively used by the Minister and officials.”
- The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, whose functions are to be “mainstreamed or transferred to other bodies.” It is open to question whether these bodies will have the expertise that has made it possible for DPTAC to give detailed advice, making a major contribution to more than two decades’ progress on accessible transport.
- The Human Genetics Commission, which advises the government on the policy implications of new developments in genetic science and aims to clarify controversial topics such as genetic testing and the regulation of genome research.
- The Central Arbitration Committee, which deals with disputes about the recognition and de-recognition of unions, is to be merged with the Certification Office, which regulates unions.
- The Agricultural Wages Board – as previously reported in Touchstone.
- The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, described by independent environmental magazine ENDS report as a key environmental organisation and “the intellectual powerhouse responsible for a string of highly influential reports.”
- The General Teaching Council for England – as previously reported in Touchstone.
- The Women’s National Commission judging by the item on the front page of their website, this seems to have come as a surprise. The WNC is the only official advisory body representing women’s interests to government.
Ominously marked for “substantial reform” are the Low Pay Commission (responsible for the minimum wage) and the UK Film Council. The list that was leaked today includes the “Union Modernisation Advisory Fund” – I understand that this means the advisory group but not the Union Modernisation Fund itself.
Organisations whose future is “still to be decided” include the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, sheltered employment provider Remploy, the Office for Fair Trading, the Central Office of Information, the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment, the Public Lending Right Committee, the Carbon Trust, the Environment Agency, the Public Trustee, the Youth Justice Board, the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority, the Forestry Commission, OFWAT, Natural England and the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
Responding to this news, PCS has accused the government of making decisions “driven by ideology not necessity” and pointed out that the independence of non-departmental public bodies is vital to maintain public confidence in the way they regulate those functions they oversee and to promote the highest standards.