Thursday 14 October 2010

It Takes Two To Quango

At the turn of 1979 and 1980 I did occasional items for a journal and one was about Quango’s at the time that Mrs. Thatcher applied her scientific disciplines to their existence and function. Like any experimental scientist she sought to dump the items that seemed to have little real purpose or sense.

There were a lot fewer of them at the time and they were much less costly on the whole. Also as computer matters were much less extensive there was far less to be lost on IT and all the complex and interwoven management systems required. There were many comments at the time based on gardening comparisons.

Nevertheless, cynical as ever I suggested that we ought to remember what was often the case in gardens. One purpose of extensive pruning and cutting back is to promote a more substantial crop and stronger growth later. I wondered if this might be the long term consequence of the Tory cuts.

Then as now people had forgotten the number and kind of Quango’s that had existed in the longer past, never mind the more recent period. King Henry VII had been ruthless in financial control only for his successor King Henry VIII to blow the lot inside a decade and trigger the Reformation in England to make up for the deficit.

Queen Elizabeth I of England had also tried economies only for her successor King James VI and I also to blow the lot within a decade and look at what happened then. Only the Quango’s of that time were often termed “Monopolies” or “Companies”.

Why was it that all these organisations of one sort or another come into being in the third quarter of the 20th Century to be cut back only to flourish again from the 1990’s onward? Like most matters it is very complicated and arises from a number of causes, some of which are not obvious. This is a long item on its own.

I was talking to someone recently who was telling me about one such body and how they spent their time. Essentially, they did a lot of meetings to determine the agenda and attendance of other meetings and to discuss any documents that might or might not be put to such a meeting.

Then there was the business of the meeting that was supposed to be related to whatever function the body had. The proceedings of the meeting then had to be fully recorded and circulated with a further raft of meetings to discuss and refine them and to consider what reports might follow or what might or might not be made public.

This then led to meetings to discuss what future meetings should be held, where and why and who and what conferences needed to be called.

In addition there had to be extensive discussions, interactions, and yes meetings with other interested bodies and persons, who in turn would have their own ones to fit into this complex pattern. It all took a lot of time.

Now with IT the inboxes would fill up every morning and have to be dealt with, all sorts of documents would be attached and need study and meetings for analysis. The hours of work were insane, people spent their lives either in meetings or crouched over computer screens, sometimes running about hither and thither.

At the end of all San Fairy Ann was achieved and nothing ever seemed to happen. Except that all too often emerged the need for yet more bodies to deal with all the issues that could not be agreed or managed or appeared to be peripheral to what that body was supposed to be dealing with.

In the meantime management consultants stalked the land looking for more bodies and more politicians to persuade of the need for more work to be done on this and that and more spending vital and critical to whatever it was that they were peddling.

Government departments shed functions that they were glad to see the back of. Interest groups were give space, money time and playgrounds for all their wants and obsessions.

Areas where decisions were difficult or unpopular were hived off often with the result that no real decisions were made and the process of avoiding them turned out to be wildly unpopular. Just look at all the bodies relating to farming, country life and rural matters.

So what will we have? A Peasant’s Revolt such as that which began the end of feudal tenures? An Eastern Association turning the world upside down? A Captain Swing triggering more changes? Or something a whole lot nastier?

Going back to gardening, the worry is that the excess and nature of growth has left the soil in no fit condition to grow much, if anything at all.

1 comment:

  1. May I offer another historical parallel - albeit somewhat fictionalised - from the pen of Robert Graves?

    In 'Claudius the God', the emperor bemoans the fact that Caligula inherited a full treasury thanks to the efforts of his predecessors, only to spend it all on frivolities and create a bloated caste of palace officials, lawyers and priests.

    Claudius, succeeding him, finds the treasury is empty and has to initiate drastic economies and prune public expenditure to a minimum. Tiberius, then Caligula - had Blair and Brown been the other way round, the coincidence would have been almost too uncanny.