British government scraps 192 quangos in huge overhaul
Whitehall claims controversial move will usher in new era of accountability
The British government yesterday hailed a "new era of accountability" as it announced the scrapping or merger of more than 300 public bodies in its long-awaited "bonfire of the quangos".
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said that the changes would cut costs while ensuring that ministers could be held properly answerable for decisions taken by officials.
However, Labour warned that the speed of the cull could actually increase costs, while trade unions accused ministers of wanting to get rid of independent bodies able to stand up to government.
The casualties ranged from such well-established organisations as the Agricultural Wages Board and the Youth Justice Board, through to obscure Whitehall bodies like the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines.
In all, 192 bodies will be abolished, 118 merged down to 57, while a further 171 will be "substantially" reformed. The future of another 40 remains under consideration.
The changes will cut the overall number of quangos which were considered under the terms of the government's review from 901 to 648 -- a reduction of 253.
Some organisations, such as the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the Renewable Fuels Agency, will be absorbed into government departments, while others, like British Waterways and the Design Council, will become charities.
In the Commons, Mr Maude acknowledged that the changes would "inevitably" lead to job losses but refused to be drawn on numbers.
He said that while they would lead to savings, the main reason for the changes was to restore democratic accountability to public life.
"For too long this country has tolerated ministers who duck the difficult decisions they were elected to make," he said.
"For too long we have had unaccountable officials meddling in people's lives. For too long we have had quango pay spiralling out of control."
Shadow cabinet office minister Liam Byrne said the government was simply completing a process started by the former Labour government, which had set out plans to cut 123 quangos, accounting for two-thirds of those announced yesterday.
He said that while Labour's plans would have saved £500m (€569m) by 2013, the speed of the government's cuts could actually increase costs. "I am afraid the minister has become the most expensive butcher in the country," he said.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber accused ministers of getting rid of bodies that "stand up for ordinary people against government or business excess".
"When independent bodies give public advice to ministers, they have to explain why, if they reject it.
"With no independence or transparency, corporate lobbyists will be cracking open the champagne today," he said.
Among the more controversial decisions is the planned merger of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission.
While it has the backing of business, as it promises to cut time taken by market investigations, critics fear it will weaken the power of government to curb anti-competitive behaviour.
There was particular anger over the scrapping of plans for a chief coroner for England and Wales. The Royal British Legion condemned the move as a "deep betrayal", saying the post had been central to reforms of the inquest system, which intended to ensure the deaths of armed forces personnel were properly investigated.