End of the blame game: Tories to sack ministers for failings of quangos

Author: By Michael Savage, Political Correspondent

In a speech detailing his intention to slash the number of quangos, or “quasi-autonomous
non-governmental organisations”, and publish the salaries of their
highly paid bosses, David Cameron said ministers would no longer be able to
hide behind quangos’ “cloak of independence”.

Taxpayers were forced to shell out £34.5bn on major quangos last year, up 12
per cent on the previous year. Senior Tories suspect the rise has been
fuelled by Labour’s attempts to use the bodies to insulate it from unpopular
decisions. All members of the Shadow Cabinet have been ordered to examine
which quangos could be cut down or axed altogether. “Even when power is
delegated to a quango, with a Conservative government, the minister will
remain responsible for the outcomes,” said Mr Cameron. “They set
the rules under which the quango operates. And they have the power to ensure
those operating the quango are qualified to do the job.”

The Tory leader pledged to scrap the Qualifications and Curriculum Development
Agency (QCDA), responsible for developing the national curriculum. He said
its decisions placed it “at the heart of political debate and public
controversy”.

Michael Gove, the shadow Schools Secretary, blames the agency for the
controversial decision not to make children learn about important events in
British history. “Responsibility for the national curriculum should be
brought back into the Department for Children, Schools and Families, so
accountable politicians can directly enact the promises they make,” Mr
Cameron said.

However, the Tory leader provoked an angry response from Ofcom, Britain’s
telecoms industry regulator, after saying it would “cease to exist”
in its present form if he won the next election. The shadow Culture
Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been unhappy that Ofcom had a major say in the
future of regional TV news and Channel 4. A spokesman for Ofcom said the
regulator had saved the public more than £117m over five years as a result
of merging five regulators in 2004. The Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw,
said Mr Cameron had misunderstood Ofcom’s role, which was to advise.

Both Labour and the Tories see slashing quangos as a way to make “acceptable”
spending cuts, although government sources said the rise in spending on
quangos was a sign of greater investment in public services as well as the
cost of planning for the 2012 Olympics. Senior Labour figures accused the
Tories of misleading the public, claiming they had promised to create 17 new
public bodies should they win the next election. Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary
to the Treasury, said he had already ordered a review of the public bodies.

Fall guys? They took a bullet for the boss

*Ken Boston, former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
(QCA), resigned after the breakdown of last year’s Sats tests. However, he
later accused the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, of failing to admit the
Government’s role in the failure.

*Mark Haysom, the former head of the Learning and Skills Council,
stepped down in March after high-profile school building plans ground to a
halt.

*Derek Lewis, former boss of the British Prison Service, was sacked by
the then-home secretary Michael Howard after a scandal in 1995.

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