Friday 12 October 2012

A Blast From The Past on Quangos

For those who have spent up to five minutes watching the news it has emerged that the BBC has a problem concerning a former employee.  If true then not only did it fail in applying various statutory requirements, it raises questions about the way the whole show has been run now for the last decades.

On top of that are a number of other serious issues affecting other bodies and parts of government, notably all those agencies of one sort or another.  It is apparent that conspicuous failures of management and operation are the norm in UK governance and no longer exceptional and inexplicable failures.

But when we look at who runs these bodies and how they are connected we see a web of familiar names who are all interconnected.  One striking feature is that while we are told how experienced they are and why they are chosen, it seems that very many, or the majority, of these “Quangocrats” are not just on one body but numbers of them.

That raises the question of “how do they do it?”  To which the answer is they don’t.  They flit around their meetings and conferences without actually being involved much in the real business. This is done by a crew of footloose management people whose key ambition is to rise to be a Quangocrat. 

This is the way the armed services are run, the police and almost the whole lot.  No wonder we cannot control either our debt or out of control organisations.  In October of 1979, I published the following. 

It was a response to the new Thatcher Government’s declaration of a major cull of the quango’s and a return of the business of government to the government and to the civil service.


O’Cartess was taking a turn around his desk when Cugloan put his head round the door.  “What….” began Cugloan.  “It takes two to quango,” carolled O’Cartess.  “More like Last Quango in Bognor” riposted Cugloan.

“I say, said O’Cartess, “in this place the example is The Ball before Waterloo.”  Cugloan wanted to know more.  “You are really celebrating the demise of all these bodies.”

“Not at all, replied O’Cartess, “what on earth can I say in Committee without being able to quote all the sets of initials that make it imperative to do this or that.  I’m bereft, left with only my professional responsibility to go on and at the going rate that’s not worth much.”

Cugloan was doubtful.  “Did anyone really take much notice?”  O’Cartess replied, “when they wanted to, these were the crutches they leant on.  It was never I or me, always Thingummy or Whatsit.  It is really going to be difficult persuading Committee to actually make a decision of their own, they’ve quite forgotten how to.  And as for taking an officer’s advice, the thought will terrify them.”

Cugloan mustered a little sarcasm to curb O’Cartess’s eccentricity.  “And where will it all end?”  “Oh it hasn’t ended, it’s just begun” said O’Cartess.  Cugloan looked quizzical, “what precisely?”

“The development of the Quango, “ said O’Cartess.  “Its obvious to any classicist or gardener.  Cut a few heads off and then stand back to see what happens.”  “What,” asked Cugloan.

“A whole new lot of bigger and better heads,” said O’Cartess.  “All this heavy pruning will bring forth a rich and varied crop in the next summer of growth.  The great age of the Quango is round the next economic corner, the many headed monster will….”

“All right,” said Cugloan.  “I get the point, but what happens in the meantime?”  “You and I will till and hoe and prepare the soil, nothing will show and then the ground will be full of growth.”  “Ah, the fruits of the earth,” said Cugloan.  “Maybe,” said O’Cartess, “or, perhaps, a lot of rank and nasty weeds.  Then where shall we be?”

“Wallflowers“, said Cugloan, “or would you care for a Marche Militaire?”.



1 comment:

  1. "They flit around their meetings and conferences without actually being involved much in the real business."

    They do - I've seen it. If the going gets rough there is usually another quango or fake charity willing to provide a safe executive haven.