The Public Administration Committee has slated the government’s quango cull, saying many of the functions should have been transferred to charities and mutuals rather than simply scrapped.
In a scathing report that describes the exercise as “poorly managed” and unlikely to deliver the claimed cost-savings or better accountability, the cross-party Committee advises the government to rethink the process, re-examine each body’s governance arrangements, and consider handing some of the functions over to civil society organisations.
The government should have taken much longer to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the stable of quangos than it did, according to the Committee’s chair, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin.
The Cabinet Office failed to establish a proper procedure for departments to follow and did not consult with the organisations concerned or the public.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to help build the Big Society and save money at the same time, but it has been botched,” he said.
The report stated that the tests used by government to evaluate each public body “may have seemed superficially plausible at the outset, but are hopelessly unclear”.
In a stinging statement issued alongside the report, the Committee said that the review has highlighted the “complex and confusing landscape of UK public bodies”.
“The current system is chaotic, making it difficult to understand why different arms-length bodies exist and what these variations mean in practice.”
Bringing the functions of quangos back inside central departments is not certain to improve accountability, the Committee added.
After the report was published, Unite the Union added its voice to the criticism, saying that the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill had “all the hallmarks of being hastily-prepared and ill-thought-out”.
General secretary-designate Len McCluskey said: “The fact that the government, which has been in office for nine months, is still unable to say how much will be saved by this exercise, speaks volumes for its ability to formulate coherent policy.”
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, denied the review had been rushed and insisted it would save “very significantly more” than £1bn.
In total, 192 public bodies are being abolished by the coalition government.