Friday, 2 September 2011

Pay quangocrats by results

The announcement by Nick Clegg of the UK riots inquiry  is sadly symptomatic of one of the fundamental things wrong with British public life which has a huge impact on all of our lives. Quangos and public sector bodies are full of the same people building careers at the expense of the taxpayer. The Chairman of the panel, Darra Singh, previously chaired a commission for integration and cohesion panel for Labour in 2006. I wonder what became of the findings from that commission and why they didn't help prevent the riots of last month?

It is a phrase often used when a political party is looking for cost savings in government that promise so much: 'bonfire of the quangos'. It suggests strong action to reduce a closed-door sub-culture of society, brimmed full of liberal do gooders and career bureaucrats. Progress is often made early on as the 'low hanging fruit' - to use management speak - is lopped off the tree of quango plenty.

After a while progress slows as these quangos fight for their lives and their funding - often using tax-payers money to do this. They often become a self-justifying organisation which lose sight of their mission. Ministers move on and objectives to cut public sector bodies slip. Quangos, commissions, panels and other such groups survive and even prosper. Leading each of these bodies are career quangocrats - Singh is a prime example. A CV including two councils, three housing associations, a charity or two: where is the commercial sense based on having to deliver real results?

Until the State stops employing so many 'lifers' every political cycle will see a 'bonfire of the quangos' story. If the quangos delivered results we wouldn't need to have a once a decade ritual burning session. So here's the idea: make every chief executive of a public body have real experience of running a business, getting value for shareholders and making a profit. Furthermore, have it written into their contract, for those organisations where this is possible, that they will be paid a bonus if they achieve such strong results that their organisation becomes defunct.

If they have a CV based on success, and a will to achieve not build a cosy career, we may never have to see a bonfire of the quangos ever again.

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