Counting the cost of the Quango state

Guy Aitchison
20 May 2008

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): The Taxpayers’ Alliance has released a report documenting the size and cost of Britain’s bewildering array of non-elected public bodies, what it calls our “unseen government”. Key findings are:

  • In 2006-07, taxpayers funded 1,162 public bodies, at a cost of nearly £64 billion.


  • This is equivalent to £2,550 per household in the UK.


  • Over 700,000 people in the UK work within this layer of quasigovernment.


  • While the number of Executive Non-Departmental Public Bodies - the classic “quango” - has fallen since 1997, from 1,128 to 827, the cost of these has soared from some £19 billion in 1997 to £31 billion in 2007, a growth in real terms of 50%.


  • The organisation of British government is difficult to comprehend. Political and financial lines of responsibility are so divorced that it is often difficult to ascertain where responsibility lies, or to whom anyone is accountable. With no coherent structure, duplication of responsibilities is endemic: for example, five bodies monitor the water industries of the UK.


  • Government itself does not know the true and size and cost of government. The few official documents concerned with Britain’s public bodies are out of date and often inaccurate. The Cabinet Office, whose responsibility it is to monitor and regulate public bodies, applies a very limited definition of public body, and fails completely to provide the public with clear information on the size and cost of the public bodies.


    Now the Taxpayers’ Alliance clearly has its own agenda here, but it strikes me these figures should be of concern to everyone and not just those ideologically committed to lower taxes and smaller government. These obscure bodies exercise extensive control over our lives but we know next to nothing about them. Not only do they lack democratic accountability; they are, according to a recent NLGN report, utterly unrepresentative in their make up. Any hope of indirect accountability is frustrated by the Government’s refusal to provide a clear picture of their size and cost, despite strong criticism from the Public Administration select committee in 2003.

    So leaving aside how much of the £64 billion a year is “waste” (as the TPA says) and how much goes towards providing valuable services, it seems obvious that basic principles of transparency and democratic accountability are not being met.

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