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David Cameron pledges a reduction in the "number, size, scope and influence of quangos"

CAMERON DAVID - green tie Scroll down for post-speech update.

As urged elsewhere on the site today by Andrew Haldenby of Reform, David Cameron is going to make a speech to that think-tank today in which he will pledge to cut back on the powers of unaccountable quangos.

For starters, he will announce the abolition under a Conservative Government of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and a rolling back of the power of Ofcom.

But all members of the Shadow Cabinet will now be asked to look for cutbacks in quangos covering their departmental responsibilities.

In an excerpt of the speech briefed to the BBC, Mr Cameron will reportedly say:

"Too many state actions, services and decisions are carried out by people who cannot be voted out by the public, by organisations that feel no pressure to answer for what happens, in a way that is completely unaccountable. The growth of the quango state is, I believe, one of the main reasons people feel that nothing ever changes, nothing will ever get done and that the state just passes the buck and sends them from pillar to post instead of sorting out problems."

Interviewed on the Today Programme (click here to listen to it in full), Mr Cameron said that he intended using his speech to make the argument about what quangos are supposed to do. He acknowledged that some have real functions - such as that responsible for checking nuclear installations - and that it was right that some decisions were made by quangos in an impartial way, such as the handing out of broadcasting licences.

However, he said that too many quangos are now making policy - as well as becoming "lobbying organisations in their own right" and accused them of "empire-building", pointing out that 68 quango heads are now paid more than the Prime Minister. It was therefore right to assess which could be got rid of and which could be slimmed down, he said.

I'll add more once the speech has been delivered...

1.30pm Update: David Cameron has now made the speech and was keen to emphasise that he is NOT talking about a "bonfire of quangos" (the invitation to attend the speech from Reform used that phrase, rather than the Tory leader):

"It would be far too simplistic for me to stand here and announce some kind of ‘Bonfire of the Quangos.’  People have heard that kind of talk many times before, and seen little to show for it. Instead, we need a more sophisticated approach.Yes we need to reduce the number, size, scope and influence of quangos. But we also need to recognise that there are circumstances where functions of the state do need to be carried out independently of elected politicians. In developing our approach to quangos we have tried to be precise and specific about what these circumstances are, so we can evaluate existing quangos, and proposals for new ones, against criteria based on clear principles."

He said that wherever possible, he would expect ministers to execute their responsibilities through their department.

But he accepted that it was right to keep execution at arm's length when decisions should not be subject to political influence and said there were three  areas where the public would want independent bodies to be charged with decision-making:

  • Where technical operations looking beyond the political horizon are involved such as the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Bank of England
  • Where politically impartial decision are required about the distribution of taxpayers' money, such as the various academic Research Councils
  • Where there needs to be transparency over facts that cannot be distorted by politicians, such as the Office for National Statistics - and the proposed Office for Budget Responsibility whic David Cameron wants to establish. 

But he reiterated:

"In all other circumstances, any task undertaken by government should be carried out directly through a department of state and the apparatus of accountable government."

As to the Shadow Cabinet review of the quangos falling within their area of responsibility, he said they will all be tasked with asking the following questions:

  • Does this organisation need to exist?
  • If its functions are necessary, which of them should be carried out in a directly accountable way within the department?
  • And which, if any, should be carried out independently, at arm’s length from political influence?
  • If there really is a need for an independent quango, how can we make sure it is as small as possible, operating with maximum efficiency, frugality and respect for taxpayers’ money?

That process would go on "up to and beyond the election", he said.

Click here for the full text of the speech.

Jonathan Isaby

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