UK gov't to cull of nearly 200 agencies

AP News
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Posted: Oct 14, 2010 10:42 AM
UK gov't to cull of nearly 200 agencies

Britain is cutting nearly 200 agencies from its thicket of bureaucracy, the government said Thursday, handing pink slips to organizations with such names as the Horserace Totalisator Board and the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines.

The agencies are known as "quangos" _ or quasi-autonomous non-government organizations _ each one a power center that is not accountable to public. The 901 quangos carry out various government functions, handling 13 percent of total government spending with 15 big quangos controlling three-fourths of that expenditure.

The Conservative-led government has promised deep cuts in spending to grapple with record national debts, but its primary argument for abolishing quangos was to restore accountability in decision-making.

Potential savings are limited because three-fourths of quango spending is simply passing money along to grant recipients.

"This exercise is not principally about saving money, although it will do so," Francis Maude, who heads the Cabinet Office, told the House of Commons.

The Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines, Maude said, for instance, flunked the first test: "Does the body need to exist or its functions need to be carried out at all?"

Other quangos marked for extinction included the British Hallmarking Council, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body, the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites, and the Railway Heritage Committee.

Some quangos would survive in other forms, perhaps taken back into government departments or handed off to local governments, others will be merged, Maude said.

The Design Council and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts will be turned into self-financing charities.

Some of the agencies have ardent support. The government's previously announced plan to abolish the British Film Council has already provoked heated opposition, and defenders rallied for other quangos Thursday.

"In many cases the government is abolishing bodies that cost peanuts but provide invaluable scientific or other expert advice to government," said Paul Noon, general secretary of Prospect, a civil service union. "In other cases the costs of closure are greater than their running costs."

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, the most experienced figure in Prime Minister David Cameron's Cabinet, argued that fewer quangos would sharpen the government's performance.

"One of the big problems with quangos is that half of them were created so the minister could say it wasn't his fault" when something went wrong, Clarke said.