I remember being sat in a meeting ahead of the 2005 General Election in which we were reviewing a proposed list of Quangos to be scrapped as part of the Conservative Party’s pledge to cut Government waste. What was surprising was how short the final list ended up being. Reading descriptions of what some of these public bodies did and their ‘achievements’ was like discovering a weirdly liberal, overly PC, risk adverse, culture of self-promotion and scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours bureaucracy that seemed to be an industry in itself.
Looking through the full list here published by The Telegraph today, of the Quangos currently under review by the coalition, and times don’t seem to have changed all that much. In the years since 2005 I’ve witnessed firsthand how these Quangos really are an industry in itself - many existing merely to achieve the aim of existing through self promotion and endless self preservation strategies.
A couple of years ago I met with some board members of what I thought was a relatively minor regional Quango with, it soon became clear, a huge budget to spend on self-promotion. The Quangocrats wanted me to devise a communication strategy to protect them ahead of the last election. They had a separate pot of money to pay another firm for lobbying duties.
Where I ‘failed’ in my task was I simply couldn’t understand why they existed. Their work was done quite ably by the various layers of local government or by colleges and universities. My lack of willingness to embrace their relentless pursuit of self-preservation – which all employees adhered to like a religion – meant no strategy was ever agreed and someone else will have received the taxpayers’ money to undertake this work.
So today’s leaked memo, while good news for those of us who want to see taxpayers’ money better spent may also, in the short term at least, be good news for PR and lobbying firms as these Quangos fight like tigers to preserve their right for self-promotion.