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Views of the week: 17 December 2009

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LGC rounds up the best comment, analysis and opinion from the past week.

Professor Matthew Flinders in The Times on ‘the quango state’

If ministers are to make multi-billion pound efficiency savings, they will have to adopt a more hard-headed approach to quangos than that outlined in last week’s Smarter Government white paper. They should clarify which bodies should be responsible for what. Ministers must also stop hiding behind quangos and curb their instinct to create new bodies as a kneejerk response to the media frenzy generated by specific incidents.

The creation of quangos to govern parts of the public sphere that were once the purview of MPs shows how the political elite has lost its confidence to govern. Politicians ought not to hide behind experts - they should show a bit of moral nerve. But politicians should also admit that no future government is going to abolish all quangos but should aim to create a smarter state in which more streamlined, arm’s-length bodies operate within a clear and accountable system.

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian on local devolution

Gordon Brown’s proposals to achieve savings by culling bureaucracy have been tried before and not delivered promised savings. The only known mechanism for cutting central costs is the wholesale delegation of services to smaller units, notably local authorities.

Under the Total Place initiative, the government could revive the old block-grant formula and devolve services such as health and education to localities, as in most continental countries. But this would threaten powerful vested interests in Westminster and Whitehall, which is why nobody dares to do it.

Andrew Gilligan in The Daily Telegraph on the role of inspections

In the past, visits by inspectors were rare and their work meant something. Their function now, all too often, is not to hold public service managers to account, but to join with them in a conspiracy to make things look better than they are. It might not protect us much - but it certainly protects ministers.

Many public services have improved modestly. But the reports churned out by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the like have become part of New Labour’s vast machine for manufacturing “fake success”. It is time for the regulators to assert their independence from central government.

Jackie Ashley in The Guardian on Britain’s elderly care crisis

The issue of Britain’s rapidly ageing population should be at the heart of the pre-election argument. Labour’s announcement of free social care for the poorest households and the Conservatives’ proposed £8,000 upfront payment for free residential care, are both gimmicks. We must recognise the demographic crisis facing us and hear grown-up proposals for handling it.


Pick of the Blogs

Who’ll be the Christmas number Oneplace?

Audit Commission - Audit Commission newsroom:

If, like me, you got bored with ITV’s repeat of Loose Women, you might have gone online and Googled for ‘oneplace’. The top search result at 1.40am was, a handy site that’s the online home of the Christian Radio Ministry. I recommend the Q&A with Hank Hanegraaff - the site’s Bible Answer Man. But, try searching for oneplace right now and the Radio Ministry has been knocked off Google’s number one perch by the new joint inspectorates’ website.

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Oneplace takes off

Michael Newbury, Audit Commission comprehensive area assessment lead for North Yorkshire and York:

There’s 10,000 pages of assessment, commentary, financial and performance data organised around 152 areas. Searching on ‘theatres’ generates 46 hits. ‘Rural’ produces 512. ‘Gun crime’, 50 hits. On pre-Budget report day, ‘value for money’ produces more than 1,500. Oneplace is a huge step in making more information available to the people who pay for and use public services. Helping them to hold local areas to account. Over to you, then.

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