We learned this morning of the latest progress in the so-called “bonfire of the quangos”, the sharp cuts to semi-governmental bodies being carried out by Francis Maude, the cabinet office minister.
As the BBC reported:
More than 100 quangos have been axed and a further 90 merged into other bodies since the coalition came to power, ministers have said.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the cull of publicly funded agencies was on track to save £2.6bn by the end of this Parliament.
When Francis Maude said a few weeks ago that he was culling 192 quangos he couldn’t put a number on how much money the coalition would save. And no wonder. The cost of any government reorganisation can quickly mount in terms of redundancy payments, closing down offices and so on – before you get any net benefits.
Regional Development Agencies will require a further £1.4bn-plus of state funding over the next four years despite their abolition in the spending review, officials have just confirmed.
The nine regional quangos, which are to be replaced with a patchwork of “local enterprise partnerships” – loose networks of councils and companies – cannot be axed immediately and instead will be wound down gradually with heavy redundancy costs for staff.
The report by Sir Philip Green into Whitehall efficiency is now out* and it makes interesting reading, not least his suggestion that maybe the state shouldn’t be paying for mobile phones for desk-bound junior personnel. (There are 105,000 government mobiles).
One of his discoveries is the lack of reliable central government data. For example, his team was first told that Whitehall spent £2bn a year on travel. The second estimate was £500m. The third was £768m – before the final figure came in at £551m. (This will seem familiar to all political journalists).
Sir Philip has also found big differences in prices paid to suppliers: a box of paper can cost anything from £8 to £73. Laptops vary from £353 to £2,000.
I am told by a reliable source that ministers have struck a deal with five out of the six civil service unions over the civil service compensation scheme. (The PCS* are apparently still holding out but its national executive is meeting this afternoon to discuss the offer). An announcement is expected as early as today.The deal could pave the way for the coalition to cut redundancy terms for civil servants and lay off up to 100,000 jobs out of the 500,000 covered by the scheme.
Francis Maude, cabinet office minister, is currently legislating for the new arrangements via a parliamentary bill which has its third reading next week. He has wanted to reduce the cost of making civil servants redundant by about two-thirds, claiming the current scheme is “way out of kilter” with the private sector.
Not sure if this has had any pick-up but in Francis Maude’s speech he promised to set up his own army of community organisers:
So we’re creating a Big Society Bank, training a whole new generation of community organisers, involving more voluntary and social enterprises in public service provision. Social action; community engagement.
Could this possibly have been borrowed from David Miliband’s “Movement for Change”, modelled on Barack Obama’s similar campaign?
Francis Maude has come up with a genius money-saving wheeze. The only tiny downside is that it won’t kick in for another 10 years.
As the Telegraph reveals in Saturday morning’s splash, the Cabinet Office minister hopes to scrap the census – Britain’s official population count – in an attempt to save its £480m cost.
However, he admitted that next year’s census would still have to go ahead. He vowed instead to cancel the next official headcount – which will not occur until 2021.
To get to that point the Tories (or coalition) have to win the 2015 election and then the 2020 election. And still be in a cost-cutting mood. That’s a whole pyramid of ifs.
The last time the three parties sat down in an “adult” fashion to discuss party funding – and how to reform it – the talks broke down in an acrimonious fashion. The Hayden Phillips review ran into the sand in late 2007 (although he believes he was inches away from an agreement).
Tomorrow (Thursday) the can of worms will be reopened by the the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is interviewing witnesses including Sir Hayden, Jack Straw, Francis Maude and David Heath. The sessions start at 9.30am at Church House in Dean’s Yard.
Reform of party funding is in the coalition agreement (page 21).
Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, is keen to end the passive way in which millions of pounds are delivered from the unions to Labour via their political funds. In particular the Tories are unhappy – and have been for years – with the fact that members have to “opt out” of the funds rather than “opt in”. That, they argue, is unfair given that many union members are Tory supporters.
The coalition is not prepared to risk acting unilaterally, however. It knows that hitting Labour’s coffers without a wider package of reforms to party funding would leave it open to charges of being partisan. Instead the Tories and Lib Dems will attend the inevitably slow multi-party talks with Labour and others that will follow the committee’s eventual report.
Sometimes there is a gap between what politicians say and what they do:
Last month the Cabinet Office said: