All smoke and no fire
Less than a year ago, the coalition warned us to expect a "bonfire of quangos" as ministers cut back on non-departmental bodies and staff to save money and increase accountability.
Back then, a Whitehall source told the Telegraph:
"These reforms represent the most significant rolling back of bureaucracy and the state for decades. Our starting point has been that every quango must not only justify its existence but its reliance on public money."
The reality is a bit different, it would seem.
John Redwood put parliamentary questions to all 25 departments, asking how much had been spent on redundancies and how many new members of staff had been recruited both by the departments and the quangos they are responsible for. (You can see his questions and the answers he received here).
Only eight departments were able to furnish him with details. Turns out, over 4,000 people have been recruited to departments, including to bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the National Policy Improvements Agency and the Committee on Climate Change. About 1,500 people have been let go, through both compulsory and voluntary redundancy.
I've argued before that the coalition's war on quangos was a political, rather than a financial, strategy. This would seem to confirm this - after a year of so in government, getting rid of quangos doesn't seem nearly as easy as it did a year ago. A combination of realising that these bodies do actually serve a purpose, and the undeniable fact that the coalition has bigger political fish to fry, will have contributed to this.
But since Cameron announced his intentions to "roll back" the quango state as early as 2009, this is a long-held priority that has fallen by the wayside. He said the plans were intended to provide "democratic accountability, not bureaucratic accountability". The departments that weren't able to answer Redwood's questions say they will provide the details in due course. We await further details of just how unaccountable Whitehall still is, then.