QUANGOs – wasteful and anti-democractic?

Danny Finkelstein asks would people really miss some of the numerous QUANGOs if they were abolished while RoI Justice Minister Brian Lenihan attacked the growth of such bodies, arguing:

“This tendency to establish a lot of agencies and bodies at one remove from the government is a form of abdication from governmental responsibilities.”

  • DK

    FD – can you name a quango in NI you would do away with and why? It seems a mite easy to attack “quangos”, but they are all set up for a good reason, not just for fun.

  • cladycowboy

    Abolish QUANGO’s?

    How on earth will the middle classes’ sons and daughters who didn’t become doctors or lawyers ever going to be able to earn 40k by the time they’re 26?

    Its nothing short of removing their birth-right.

    Can you tell that i’m a little bitter? I just don’t get the lavish waste of MY money spent on these QUANGO’s and think-tanks recruiting people who have never had a problem in their life other, than choosing which of Mummy and Daddy’s QUANGO friends to join, being entrusted with the role of sorting out society’s ills.

  • fair_deal

    DK

    Often I put up a thread because it might spark a debate not because I have any particualar sympathy/interest in the specific topic or one side of the argument.

  • BogExile

    QUANGOs have been modernised, they are now Non Departmental Public Bodies to you and me.

    Our purpose is admirably set out by cladycowboy. They exist to monitor and evaluate their existence. If there were no NDPB’s who the hell do you think would keep printers, IT companies, sandwich makers and Consultancy firms afloat? Just who else would soak up all the functionally illiterate graduates? Al Qaeda?

    NDPB’s provide an important public service. At least 95.3% of them say they add value to Private Eye.

  • DK

    OK FD – nothing personal. Can anyone else name a quango *in NI* that serves no purpose?

  • Dev

    Can anyone explain what QUANGO stands for? I know what they are I just never seem to have found out why they are referred to as QUANGO’s, is it:

    Quite Useless At Notionally Governing Others?

  • BogExile

    Quasi Autonymous Non Governmental Agency

  • Newton Emerson

    NI quangos which could be abolished right now without anyone except their employees and favoured consultants even noticing:

    – InvestNI
    – NI Tourist Board
    – Northern Ireland Screen
    – The Arts Council of Northern Ireland
    – Rural Development Council
    – Sports Council for Northern Ireland
    – Northern Ireland Museums Council
    – Museums and Galleries Northern Ireland
    – Playboard
    – Northern Ireland Events Company
    – Office of the Children’s Commissioner
    – Council for Nature Conservancy and the Countryside
    – Northern Ireland Water Council
    – Civic Forum
    – Community Relations Council
    – Children and Young People’s Unit
    – Ulster Scots Agency
    – Northern Ireland Office…

    This list just goes on and on. Interestingly, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association backed the abolition of most of these Quangos in the RPA, including the big ones like InvestNI (£150 million pa) and the NI Tourist Board (£25 million pa).

    As Cladycowboy pointed out, the people employed by these organisations are already living on the dole. They just get the higher-paying middle-class version. If the Executive was allowed to keep the savings from a quango cull and invest those savings in modern infrastructure we could start weaning ourselves off subsidy altogether.

  • Animus

    I think some quanqos have useful functions – because we don’t all directly benefit from every single one doesn’t mean there is no cause. I’m in good health and law-abiding, but I’m not claiming we should consider closing hospitals and prisons because I personally may not benefit.

    Newton, for your information, the Civic Forum is not functioning and was fairly cheap, as reps were expected to cover their own costs and the secretariat was provided by the civil service. As for the NIO, it’s part of government, not a quango. Similarly, the Children and Young People’s Unit is staffed by civil servants as part of OFMDFM. It’s easy to attack quangos, but do make some attempt to know what you’re talking about. We could just as easily survive without much of glib commentary which serves as ‘journalism’ in this country.

  • fair_deal

    “OK FD – nothing personal.”

    Nothing personal taken.

  • Re Newton’s list, could we not keep the following and abolish the DCAL and Edwin instead?

    -Northern Ireland Screen
    – The Arts Council of Northern Ireland
    – Sports Council for Northern Ireland
    – Northern Ireland Museums Council
    – Museums and Galleries Northern Ireland

  • gregory

    Can we get rid of the Housing Executive now that they are a lame duck under RPA?

    The Right To Buy and the loss of new build to Housing Associations, mean that the Executive is a dead man walking.

    Break it up and give it back to the councils as soon as.

  • victor

    Most of those listed by Emerson are small in size and should rightfully go. However to have a proper impact on the public consciousness, a big tree needs to fall. The Housing Executive is not the powerful force that it used to be and as a confidence-booster for our councils, Housing should be returned to them.

  • Comrade Stalin

    oneill:

    No, cut them all. Let’s take a look through Newton’s list:

    – InvestNI

    Cut it and devolve responsibility for economic investment and job creation down to the local councils.

    – NI Tourist Board

    Remove the budget for this, and allow the councils to decide collectively if they want to keep it.


    – Northern Ireland Screen
    – The Arts Council of Northern Ireland
    – Northern Ireland Museums Council
    – Northern Ireland Events Company
    – Museums and Galleries Northern Ireland

    The above all overlap. Two museum bodies for chrissake ? Amalgamate all into one body and make it part of the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

    – Rural Development Council
    – Council for Nature Conservancy and the Countryside

    Amalgamate these. Both are council responsibility.

    – Sports Council for Northern Ireland

    Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure again.


    – Playboard
    – Office of the Children’s Commissioner
    – Children and Young People’s Unit

    Three bodies doing the same thing. Get rid of two of them, and make the remaining one part of OFMDFM.

    – Northern Ireland Water Council

    Get rid of this bunch of useless bastards.

    – Civic Forum

    See above.

    – Community Relations Council

    Subsume into the OFMDFM.

    – Ulster Scots Agency

    DCAL again.

    – Northern Ireland Office…

    I guess the Brits need somewhere to put their feet up when they visit ..

  • The Dubliner

    Comrade, I think Newton nailed the crux point: cut costs [b]if[/b] the Executive is allowed to keep the savings (for, say, two years). If it isn’t, where is the incentive for them to act in the UK’s greater interests as opposed to NI’s interest?

  • Nevin

    “This tendency to establish a lot of agencies and bodies at one remove from the government” could mean a loss of ‘brown paper envelopes’ to politicians 😉

  • Pished as Newt

    First, easy targets…

    But facts… Playboard is not a QUANGO… it is a charity. Maybe you ought to check the rest to see if they fit the definition too?

    Second, what they all spend is piffling compared to NIO budgets. Same as RPA diversionary tactics, save a few hundred mill a year and NIO blunders on blowing 10Bn + p.a. – maybe all the effort ought to be focused on depts. such as DRD – consider debacles such as flooding, sewage, roads infrastructure, translink bangor overspend fiasco….and on and on and on….

    how about getting to the real waste?

  • noel adams

    Last time i checked NIO still has the brief for policing and justice.

  • The Dubliner

    Pished, a few points: The issue isn’t how much they spend: it is wether they should be spending at all. It is easy to justify a cost in one area by claiming that that cost serves to save money from being wasted in other areas, but where is the evidence – such as concrete cost-benefit analysis examples – to support the claim? And lastly, as Brian Lenihan pointed out: they are making decisions that are properly “governmental responsibilities.” Which begs the question, why elect governments if you don’t trust them to make prudent decisions?

  • Comrade Stalin

    But facts… Playboard is not a QUANGO… it is a charity. Maybe you ought to check the rest to see if they fit the definition too?

    Indeedio. Have you ever been asked to contribute to them ? Probably not. On their helpful website, they tell us who funds them. Turns out that the majority of the funding sources are other quangos, or actual government departments. The principle is much the same – is the money well spent ?

    how about getting to the real waste?

    Would you care to point it out ? I don’t think it’s as simple as it seems.

  • Crataegus

    We need to get rid of as many of these organisations as possible. There is an Assembly here and Councils we don’t need government by appointees.

    Apart from that they become self fulfilling bodies who naturally find ’causes’ and new fields of endeavour.

    We should be going further than that and taking a serious look at the number of departments, and asking where government needs to be involved and where not. Indeed we should look at streamlining many of the functions of government and making them efficient.

    I must stress this is not a call for privatisation. Nor is it criticism of the people who work in the system. It is just coming to terms with the reality that we have a limited budget and we have to ask in each department what are the priorities and how can we deliver within the agreed policies.

    We really need to move and concentrate on getting the basics right. Much of it is boring as hell but spending your time and resources worrying about caviar and exotic issues ain’t going to put bread on the table.

  • DK

    C Stalin: “On their helpful website, they tell us who funds them. Turns out that the majority of the funding sources are other quangos, or actual government departments.”

    In playboards defence you have just looked at the top of the page – they split their main income into funders at the top, which are governement bodies, and sponsors at the bottom, which are companies and individuals:

    http://www.playboard.org/funders.html

  • Animus

    The Arts Council in NI spends less than any other region than the UK, one might call them a bargain. Many arts groups would complain that their role is not strong enough, but I suppose that comes from being the middleman between community arts and government.

    Stalin – Community Relations Council was part of government at one time, and found that they weren’t trusted. That was when, and why, the decision was taken to move them out. As a distributor of grant aid, it is also important that organisations like CRC are not too cosy with government so that they can carry out their work. If you want to see if money is well-spent, why don’t you have a look at annual reports and check targets acheived against targets set?

    Crateagus – do you trust government to carry out all of the functions that are carried out by quangos? Really? You’re a a trusting soul. So all you need is a mandate and that makes you able and qualified to distribute funds, ensuring operational effectiveness and manage a team of people with disparate responsibility? Government’s role is policy development and oversight; many quangos are responsible for delivering on key aspects of government policy.

  • Crataegus

    Animus

    Government’s role is policy development and oversight; many quangos are responsible for delivering on key aspects of government policy.

    You see that is where we disagree I think much of this activity should be done by Departments or Councils.

    Do I trust politicians, you got to be kidding, but there comes a time when we have to give them responsibility. Treat them like children and that is how they will behave.

    At least with politicians I can vote against them.

    Appointee culture is something that I find utterly abhorrent.

  • Animus

    I think politicians don’t have the specialised skills required to carry out much of this work. Left to politicians, even more money would be spent engaging consultants to carry out the work. And really, since it is likely to be the same staff carrying out these functions, either through a quango or a council, what’s the fuss? Many of the organisations listed in the whinging posts above are already carried out directly by departments, so the posters are either ignorant of that fact or ignoring it.

    No one is fond of appointee culture, but the boards generally approve decisions, they don’t carry out the work. I don’t have sufficient faith that politicians are elected because of their skills in any case. Many appointees at least have an interest – a well run board will have people who are interested *and* talented. In terms of organisations which have any watchdog role for government, it would be bizarre and wrong to locate them within government itself, local or regional.

  • T.Ruth

    I am a member of Quango Sport NI -eight years now. Chair Audit Committee,Performance Committee. V-Chair Safety in Sports Grounds Committee, Member Soccer Implementation Committee,Member All Island Research and Development Committee. Member Mountain Rescue. Salary nil. Time commitment considerable. Membership comes by application interview and appointment-after four years service one undertakes another application , interview etc.
    I get really upset by prats indiscriminately attacking folk who have a genuine wish to serve.

    Lets have all the quangos serviced by volunteers and then we can find out those who are really concerned about public service.

    The people who work as paid officers ,officials for Sport NI are in my experience immensely talented and hard working.
    Few organisations are so expertly led and have such a depth of talent.
    T.Ruth

  • I must say that this discussion is so ill-informed and narcissistic that I wonder if any of you took a proper course in politics, especially one taught by me.

    Quangos, or as Americans prefer to call them, pressure groups – whether one likes it or not – are important communicators/actors in the democracies of today’s developed states – their importance being determined by just how involved they are in delivering whatever service they provide.

    Little wonder under these circumstances that
    ‘counterterrorists’ are running our societies these days, providing the so-called intelligence,
    and countermeasure cures that we all supposedly want or need.

    Now the usual connectors between the society, the economic system, and the established political institutions – like the military-industrial complex, doctors, etc. – are fighting at the give-away trough of benefits for whatever they can grab.

    Still, quangos or pressure groups are the most important connectors between what people need and want, and what governments are prepared to provide.

    If you don’t believe this, just think about why governments start crapping all over the place then they get into a showdown with the real doctors, not Ian Paisley or Ph.D.s like me.

    The medical profession can bring the whole process of providing treatment to patients to a complete halt if it decides to do so.

    Little wonder that governments are much more solicitous of its demands than what you or I can muster.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Working on a Quango for free?
    What a dumbass.

  • Pished as Newt

    I think most missed my point – the actual amount of money being spent by these groups is small c.f. NIO dept. direct spend. Only now with the assembly will we get oversight and accountability of that spend (crosses fingers and toes, but doesn’t put own money on it).

    The key role of these agencies is to be (hopefully) independent administrators of funding to the associated area. To make a simple example just how would you propose DCAL administer individual grants of a few £K to talented artists or sports people? The role of the quangos is to deal with the actual area…closely and with again hopefully, knowledge. For example, you CANNOT have a small group of arstists allocating money to themselves, I DO NOT WANT MY TAXES alloacted as such I’d rather have the independent oversight of a board c.f. ACNI or SportNI etc. Yes there is rationalisation possible, indeed RPA has proposed such, if it will happen will depend on the muppents on the hill.

    Let me draw a comparison, a large amount of university research in UK is supported by research councils, they are quangos, but they act as an independent buffer of having the money allocated, via peer-review processes and engagement with the user-groups and beneficiaries. A few civil servants in Whitehall with no country wide, thematic understanding or allowing the academic community carte blanche to run the systew would be disaster. That quango system works. What we have for many of the cited quangos is a smaller regional (issues) version across the society spectrum.

    As I said, put some effort into quizing NIO depts… did you read BT tonight DRD authorised a 300K pay off to head of Translink – just who was accounatable from public…? and don’t think it will not happen with ministers .. it will. At least with quangos, you have, as TRuth noted, some independent questioning board members who take corporate goveranance issues v. seriously. Yes, there are the lady’s and gent’s who lunch and the lame and retired, but again, if some of the positions were not renumerated then these spongers would be weeded out. Funnily enough it is often is the soft areas, arts, sports community that there is no renumeration, but large numbers of the DRD, farming, DETI are nice payers if you get on…..i’d wager that inqusitive goverance by board members is largely inveresly proportional to renumeration.

    But what do i know – other than having close associations and working with the systems discussed on the thread.

  • Shore Road Resident

    I sincerely hope that all the quango defenders in here are defending their own salaries. Because otherwise the contempt for democracy on display here is really quite disturbing.

  • Pished as Newt

    Not in my case. what utter bollocks you talk Shore Road. Where is the contempt for democracy, please explain?

    Who sets up quangos, who oversees them, and then on the day to day running they have a (hopefully) independent board and chair – even you could apply if you have the appropriate experience, skills, qualifications and largely don’t mind giving of your time freely. The minutes of meetings are freely available, you can FOI them etc.

    Perhaps enagaing some critical thought about the possible options for dispensing and administering the spend and audit of public money at grass roots level – when by are large the vested parties of each community are trying to rip the arse out of it….then you might see that a quango agency is not too bad a mechanism.

  • I have never defended nor profitted by pressure groups aka quangos, SRR.

    Can’t you see that they are a fact of life, groups organized, one way or another, to inform authorities about what needs to be done, and how to provide it? What differentiates one pressure group from another is how authoritative their recommendations are, and how crucial its services are in providing whatever remedy is proposed.

    Trashing them totally just shows that you don’t have the slightest idea of how policy across the board is made in today’s developed societies, and how remedies are supplied, one way or another.

    Of course, reform of these bodies, even elimination of some of them, should always be on the political agenda, but to act as if we can be governed properly without them is simply utopian.

  • miss fitz

    I’m going to put my hand up too, and admit to being on 2 quangos. On each, I am a volunteer, and receive no pay beyond travelling expenses for my contribution.

    I bring to these organisations multiple skills and academic insight, as well as my experience from the ‘real world’.

    I agree with all that Trowbridge has said. Most of my experience has shown me that people who contribute and work with these groups are hardworking, committed and experienced.,

    Newton Emerson has taken an easy hit, but then again by definition most of these hits will be easy. People who contribute their talents voluntarily do not by nature advertise it.

    We see complaints all the time about government being too involved with peoples’ affairs. Using these bodies brings independence, objectivity and distance from the areas being monitored. I have no doubt that some reform may be needed in some areas, but my experience is certainly that we need and benefit from non governmental watchdog bodies.

    I disagree with Trow’s point about our quangos being the same as US pressure groups. THey are significantly different, and the independence of many of these groups is what gives them their authority

  • Comrade Stalin

    Pished:

    As I said, put some effort into quizing NIO depts… did you read BT tonight DRD authorised a 300K pay off to head of Translink – just who was accounatable from public…? and don’t think it will not happen with ministers .. it will.

    Translink is a quango! If the damn thing had been either privatized, or part of a government department, there’s no way in hell they could have gotten away with that payoff.

  • The Dubliner

    “I have never defended nor profitted by pressure groups aka quangos, SRR.

    Can’t you see that they are a fact of life, groups organized, one way or another, to inform authorities about what needs to be done, and how to provide it? What differentiates one pressure group from another is how authoritative their recommendations are, and how crucial its services are in providing whatever remedy is proposed.” – Trow

    A professor of politics who doesn’t know the difference between a lobby group and a Quango? A lobby group is there to “inform authorities about what needs to be done, and how to provide it” whereas a Quango is not an advisory body but an executive body to which governments have devolved power – hence the name “QUasi-Autonomous NGO (Quango).” And hence Minister Brian Lenihan’s point “This tendency to establish a lot of agencies and bodies at one remove from the government is a form of abdication from governmental responsibilities.” In short, those who are not elected should not be performing governmental functions – as many Slugger commenters have stated on this thread.

  • victor

    I work in a large quango and most of the people in it, including myself, are lazy, demotivated and generally just putting our time in.

  • Pished as Newt

    Comrade… it is subtle point I am making here.

    The sort of commitment and engagement we get from examples such as Fitz and Truth above are laudible and valued.

    Rather than a crude blunderbus approach to all quangos we need to draw some distinctions..and i’m speaking here from indirect but informed knowledge – I’m saying no more.

    The voluntary contributors who oversee many of the qangos do sterling service, where problems arise to my view is in some of the renumerated “commercial” quangos as I highlighted above. He who pays the piper calls the tune…. not wanting to be wanky but coming all managerial and MBA but there is a tension in the governanace when for example DRD is renumerating people for their “indpendence”. By and large there are two cultures at work the corporate and the culture…. and people on the corporate and being well looked after.

    lets also just say that the last few years has thrown up some nice examples in the DETI remit area.

    what I’m saying is we don’t want to do as some did on page 1 – rhyme of a long list without delving a little deeper. it is not too hard, but then having contributors ignorantly firing off hang-em all posts belittles the good work that goes on in many cases, with no reward.

  • Pished as Newt

    In short, those who are not elected should not be performing governmental functions – as many Slugger commenters have stated on this thread.

    But they have been devolved and given the powers by government order fool. Also they in almost all cases they have an indepenedent chair and board – which as i mentioned above, if you’ve got the skills and qaulifications for, but not the greed for cash can get on….they are all advertised.

  • Pished as Newt

    I work in a large quango and most of the people in it, including myself, are lazy, demotivated and generally just putting our time in.

    and the civil service is any different at NIO – ROFLMAO!!!

  • victor

    Your last post clearly demonstated that you are indeed pished as a newt, Pished As Newt.

    Please do not counter by saying that ‘I sir, will be sober in the morning whereas you will still be a lazy free-loading b*stard!’

  • The Dubliner

    “But they have been devolved and given the powers by government order fool.” – Pished

    Okay, read this text very slowly: they do not have a democratic mandate to perform governmental functions, i.e. they are making executive decisions that should properly be made by government ministers. Now, take a minute for that to sink and use your little noggin to ponder further: this “is a form of abdication from governmental responsibilities.” Did it sink in that time? Good lad.

  • victor

    Yep, maybe all our quangos would be better to follow the practicses of their noble equivalents in Eire-yep, get the brown envelopes out for the planners and the County Council and next thing you know, you’re ‘tee-shock’.

  • The Dubliner

    Victor, don’t follow us. We have more Quangos than the UK has, despite being 15 times smaller than the UK. Now, back to Pished, who thinks that it is okay for the receptionist to operate just as long as the surgeon tells her to: let the chatty receptionist diagnose as she wishes but keep the wench from the operating theatre.

    By the way, brown envelopes are so passé. It’s numbered bank accounts or inside tracks these days, dear boy.

  • Pished as Newt

    Dubliner, dear me….lets trade insults into your clearly empty head if it can comprehend…?

    quasi autonomous… so government at arms length for a raft of reasons already covered and some not publicly espoused…..

    now lets go back to class one for a tube like yerslef….. who sets them up…. ?

    No it is not abdication it is a rightful realisation that you cannot have a centralised command economy-eqsue system for all government function – pray tell how does a career civil servant, mobile between departments, deliver close, upfront detailed understand of the all the issues in say museums, sport, arts, environment, academic research etc etc etc…no you get said quasi autonomous bodies to do so who by and large are staffed, with the exception of victor and collagues above, who have intrest and understanding of the issue pertaining to their qunago alongside a chair and board independent but drawn from across the community and with a diversity of epxertise and knowledge of the sector of relevance….and who have to by dint engange with the very community that they have to deliver service to….where is the democratic deficet there…as mentioned by another above these people are subject to lobby etc and are also advocates… so democracy in action, more so that being done by at a distance centralised civil service departments, whether they be Stormont, Westminster or similar.

  • Crataegus

    Couple of blokes, or ladies, organise a football club, scouts, dance clubs, outings for the elderly etc. They do so because they enjoy what they do or feel a sense of commitment. Society is enriched by the work of volunteers, great people wish there were more of them. These people see a need and get on with it. No one appoints them and in a long running society the office bearers are elected.

    I have been involved in a fair number of ‘organizations’ over the years didn’t get paid for any of it and didn’t expect to be. To say that people are independent because they are unpaid, and others are beholding because they get a consideration just isn’t true is it? Really in the end it depends on the character of the person. Some people like to be involved for reasons other than finance.

    But if the funds and costs of running the Quango are provided by someone you are not really independent are you? You are always mindful of next years allocation of funds. Also the people appointing quite often have a view on who ‘the right sort’ would be. Are they going to appoint a potential hell raiser, off course not, well not intentionally.

    If a professional body or a trade union organises it represents the interests of its members. That is not a Quango and they should never be so.

    If a government Department has to implement a policy decided by government it is up to that department to employ people, in house, or out, to carry it out. The administrative responsibility should rest with the department not volunteers. However what really needles me is as Dubliner so correctly put it;

    “This tendency to establish a lot of agencies and bodies at one remove from the government is a form of abdication from governmental responsibilities.” In short, those who are not elected should not be performing governmental functions.

    It is also removing potential responsibility from other sections of government such as local councils and that is totally unacceptable.

    There is another problem though, Quangos are used to off load responsibility. That is not acceptable for a government and is even less acceptable for a government dept. They often confuse the line of responsibility.

    Comrade

    Translink is a quango! If the damn thing had been either privatized, or part of a government department, there’s no way in hell they could have gotten away with that payoff.

    Too true. It amazes me that anyone wishing to defend Quangos would even mention Translink.

  • I do know the differences between quangos and pressure groups. They have quite different origins, financing, and relations to the state, but their functioning is very similar.

    Quangos started developing in the UK as it became an increasingly administered empire, while America’s state was hardly able to do much more than maintain a crude military establishment to fight domestic and American competitors. While Britain was exporting capital to be administered by the sons of the aristocracy and the rising of the middle classes, it was rampant social darwinism in the States.

    But as America became a world power, private groups, especially in industries and professional groups, became more and more important in its running – seeing its needs were, and providing solutions for them. By the time Ike left the White House, he was warning of the growing military-industrial complex which was increasingly determining what it was doing, and why. Then there were all kinds of civil interests which were getting involved in what the federal and state governments were doing.

    At the same time, the Uk’s administrative state was making all kinds of political adjustments to meet the needs of its growing democracy in London and in the Commonwealth.

    Now, they both have very similar operations in their social, economic, and political heirarchies in determining and meeting the foreign and domestic needs of their respective societies. The biggest difference is that American ones are still more private, self-regulated, and obliged more to take care of themselves, but both systems determine very highly how governments spend their money – who gets what, why, and where.

  • Animus

    I’m with pished here. Translink is an example of when quangos go bad, but there are many which function at arms length from government and need to do so. I think it ‘confuses’ responsibility only because most people have knee-jerk reactions and don’t understand how government works, the nature of good governance in voluntary organisations or in quangos. To tar all of them with a big brush is ridiculous. There are functions which government should devolve.

    If we go back to an earlier example, Community Relations Council has a number of roles, one of which is to monitor government’s action. This was at one time a function within government and was found not to work. How many of you work in quangoland? What does everyone else here do that is so high and mighty? Democracy doesn’t mean that every decision is taken by head count. It may also interest you to know that for many boards, local councillors have an automatic right to a number of seats, most of which are taken up in name only. The politicians themselves often show up once or twice and are never heard from again. Wow, democracy in action – the right not to turn up and make decisions which affect one’s consituents.

    For my part, I don’t sit on any quangos. I have served on voluntary management committees, for no remuneration whatsoever. Many people who serve on boards of quangos are working in the field of interest and it’s a way to enhance their skills, share their expertise and help organisations work better.

    Most of our lives are controlled by the interests of big business, which is generally not transparent, nor is there generally an open appointments procedure to boards. So you can get all het up about democracy and quangos, but we are in thrall to the markets, over which most of us have the minutest control.

  • To give some historical background regarding Ireland’s quangos – what I earlier alluded to, and Animus has well described the current functioning of – posters may be surprised to learn that those it had back in Victorian times provided the basis for people like A. V. Dicey to urge the promotion of Home Rule because their operations were proving that Irishmen could govern themselves.

    In the middle to his campaign to get Gladstone’s Liberals behind Parnell’s Nationalists, Dicey wrote in The Nation about what the Irish could do when left alone by Dublin Castle:

    “The Irish may well be proud of Glencree Reformatory and Artane Industrail School, near Dublin, the Malone Reformatory and Gibraltar training ship at Belfast; and these are only examples of what is being done in kindred institutions under Irish management in other parts of Ireland.” (my Albert Venn Dicey: The Man and His Times, p. 131)

    Too bad that Dicey had to ruin his campaign which put off the growth of democratic rule, and left Ireland with more than its fair share of quangos because he most falsely concluded that Parnell’s party was nothing more than a front for the Clan na Gael and its murderous Invincibles.