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Big Society quangos under threat

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A number of quangos associated with the government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda were under threat this week following the results of a Cabinet Office review.

The functions of the Commission for the Compact, which “champions and promotes” the Compact between government and the third sector, will now be carried out by Compact Voice, a charity, and the Cabinet Office.

Meanwhile, Capacitybuilders, which supports social enterprises and voluntary sector groups, will cease to exist as a non-departmental public body, with “alternative delivery for capacity building” currently under review. The Community Outreach Foundation, which runs a number of government programmes, will move to a social enterprise model.

Lastly, the Office for Civil Society Advisory Body will be abolished at the end of the current financial year.

The changes are part of the Cabinet Office’s review of quangos announced by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on Thursday morning.

Elsewhere, the future of the Local Better Regulation Office, which oversees local trading standards and environmental health regulation of national businesses, is under consideration. According to the final list: “Primary authority and other deregulatory functions will be maintained and an appropriate delivery mechanism to provide independent technical expertise will be announced by December”.

As expected, the Homes & Communities Agency and the Environment Agency survive but will be reformed while the National Housing & Planning Advice Unit is scrapped. A decision will be made in December on Partnership for Schools, the quango that oversaw the Building Schools for the Future programme and the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment is “under consideration”.

Other quangos still “under consideration” include the Children & Family Court Advisory & Support Service and the School Support Staff Negotiating Body. The Youth Justice Board will be abolished but the Migration Advisory Committee and the Equality & Human Rights Commission will be retained, the latter “substantially reformed”.

The Commission for Integrated Transport will be abolished with the government to seek an arrangement that “delivers external analysis and strategic advice on cross-modal transport policy and realising benefits, at lower cost”.

Reaction

Mr Maude said the process represented the “restoration of political accountability for decisions which affect people’s lives and the way taxpayers’ money is spent”.

“We know that for a long time there has been a huge hunger for change,” he said. “People have been fed up with the old way of doing business, where the ministers they voted for could often avoid taking responsibility for difficult and tough decisions by creating or hiding behind one of these quangos. 

“Today’s announcement means that many important and essential functions will be brought back into departments meaning the line of accountability will run right up to the very top where it always should have been.”

But figures produced by the Local Government Information Unit showed the review had so far only identified a little over a third of quangos to be abolished.

Thirty eight percent have been abolished with a further 10% under consideration. Of the remainder, 47% have been retained and 5% merged.

Local Government Association chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton (Con), welcomed the proposals.

“There are some sensible decisions here such as putting council trading standards at the centre of enforcing almost all UK consumer law,” she said. “Having government recognise officers’ expertise in enforcing important regulatory functions is a clear statement of faith in councils’ ability to deliver.

“However, there are still questions to be answered on the future of education funding quangos and others such as the Homes and Communities Agency.

Unions wasted little time in criticising the plans.

Unite joint general secretary, Tony Woodley said: “The fact that Mr Maude is unable to say how much will be saved and how many jobs will be affected by this cull shows the threadbare nature of the thinking behind these abolition plans.”

“There has been little or no consultation on these proposals from this ‘we are all in this together’ government.”

Click here to read the complete list of proposed changes to quangos

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