By Katrine Bussey
Most of Scotland’s 115 quangos should be abolished to improve democracy, a think-tank recommended today.
Reform Scotland said too much political power was in the hands of unelected groups.
It argued that quangos such as Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland operated in a “no-man’s land”, neither fully accountable to the public through ministers nor fully independent of government.
Reform Scotland said there were 115 quangos, costing the Scottish Government more than £13billion in 2008-09.
Think-tank director Geoff Mawdsley said most quangos, apart from tribunals such as the children’s panel system, should “cease to exist altogether”.
The recommendations come amid continuing concern about the level of salaries and bonuses paid to some quango bosses.
Officials have called for the work of quangos to be carried out by government departments or for them to be made fully independent bodies.
Mr Mawdsley said: “In respect of each body, a decision will need to be taken as to whether its functions could be transferred back to existing government departments reporting directly to a minister, or the quango turned into a genuinely autonomous body.”
He added: “There should also be a presumption in favour of functions being performed by local authorities, where appropriate, to ensure accountability to local communities.”
Mr Mawdsley said that under the current system “one of the key disadvantages of handing over so much power and influence to non-elected quangos is that when something goes wrong ministers are given a way out”.
He argued that the changes Reform Scotland was calling for would “not only introduce greater clarity into the political process in Scotland but also enhance the accountability of politicians to the electorate for their actions, by forcing government to be open about what they were trying to achieve and how they proposed to achieve it”.
The SNP government has said it is on track to cut the number of such bodies by 25%, while previous administrations have also promised “bonfires of the quangos”.
But the report warned that unless the “inherent problem with the nature of quangos” was addressed, “it is likely that bonfires will simply be followed by a return to form – the creation of new quangos, an increase in quango employees and their budgets”.
The think-tank’s report said there was a “lack of openness and accountability” in the present system.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was making “radical and ambitious reforms – bringing together public bodies with similar skills, expertise and processes to create a simpler, sharper and more efficient public sector landscape”.
He added that the number of public bodies had been reduced from 199 to 161, with that due to fall to about 120 by 2011.
“Projects already delivered through this agenda are estimated to save taxpayers £127million between 2008 and 2013,” he said.
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