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Bonfire of the quangos looms in FG cull plan

Fine Gael is set to abolish 150 quangos if it is returned to power at the next election.

As public outrage at government waste reached a new high last week following revelations about the HSE and the extraordinary junketeering at the Skills programme, the main opposition party is preparing a wholesale culling of many long-established state agencies.

According to the party's finance spokesman, Michael Noonan, those for the chop now include the HSE and Fas -- two of the worst offenders in the waste stakes.

In response to the Public Accounts Committee investigation into the HSE and Skills programme, a party policy document -- being kept under wraps -- will be proposing its disbandment, together with scores of other inefficient agencies. It is understood that the policy paper will be published shortly. Fine Gael insiders say there will be little difficulty in winning the approval of the frontbench or the parliamentary party.

Last night, Mr Noonan told the Sunday Independent that, in the case of both Fas and the HSE, the services provided would still be delivered, but in a less costly way that will be revealed within a month in "this major position paper".

According to the Limerick TD: "It is difficult to understand how Fas, an employment agency, lost the run of itself at a time when it had a €1bn budget during full employment. At the same time, the HSE has been shown to be not fit for purpose."

It is thought there are more than 1,000 quangos. The number of well-paid, politically appointed directors in the same bodies exceeds 2,000.

While transferring the roles of the quangos back into government departments will save hundreds of millions in rents and wages, the taxpayer may have to take a major hit upfront. The cost of closing quangos will see massive bills as the State takes over huge pension deficits and pays redundancy payments and rent-break fees.

Recently it emerged that the State may have to pay as much as €1.5m in rent over the next 15 years for an empty office in Dublin's city centre, formerly occupied by a now defunct quango. Some €50,000 has already been spent on renting the empty premises.

The taxpayer will end up paying up to €400,000 in rent for empty offices near Phoenix Park, which were occupied by another quango that was axed last year. The office lease has a break clause, which kicks in next March.

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