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\”Virtually all 115 Scots quangos \’should be scrapped\’\” – Scotsman

By Christopher Mackie

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THE proposed "bonfire of the quangos" should become an inferno, with virtually all of Scotland\’s public bodies scrapped in an attempt to drive transparent and accountable government, an economic think-tank has said.

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In a radical vision of the future of public services, Reform Scotland has proposed that the responsibilities of all 115 quasi- autonomous non-governmental organisations in Scotland should be brought back under the control of the government or given to fully independent bodies.
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\r\nThe policy organisation insists that too much power is wielded by quangos, which account for 43 per cent of Scottish Government spending yet exist in a political "no-man\’s land" where they are not fully independent of government but remain unaccountable to the electorate.
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\r\nIn a report published today, the centre-right think-tank proposes bringing agencies such as Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland under the direct control of ministers, with some powers devolved further down to local authorities.
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\r\nAnd it suggests that some agencies, such as National Museums of Scotland, should be granted full independence from ministers, entering into a formal contract with the government to provide public services for a fixed settlement.
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\r\nThis, Reform Scotland argues, would offer the public more transparency on what such organisations were expected to achieve.
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\r\nAccording to government figures cited in the report, quangos, including Scottish NHS boards, and bodies such as SportScotland, managed £13 billion of government spending during 2008-9.
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\r\nThe policy group argues that, where possible, this money should be deployed directly by ministers to improve transparency of government and accountability to the electorate.
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\r\nReform Scotland director Geoff Mawdlsey said the proposals were the only way to tackle the "problem" of quangos. "It is not what they do, it\’s the way that they do it that is the problem," he said. "The way that they do it, in our opinion, leads to less-good government and serves to undermine that direct accountability."
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\r\nReacting to the report, the Scottish Government said it was on track to cut the number of such bodies by a quarter with its Public Services Reform Bill, legislation described by a spokesman as "radical and ambitious".
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\r\nDespite a reduction in the organisations classed as quangos, Reform Scotland points out that the number of people employed by them has risen by 50 per cent since devolution.
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\r\nThe pay of some quango chiefs – such as Scottish Enterprise chief executive Lena Wilson, who was appointed last year on an annual salary of £200,000 – has also provoked controversy.
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\r\nMr Mawdsley said: "The past attempts – bonfire of the quangos, etc – have failed to get to the root of the problem. They have looked at how can we reduce the numbers, how can we reduce a bit of spending here and there, instead of saying \’there is a fundamental problem inherent in quangos and that is what we have to address\’."
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\r\nVisitScotland chief executive Philip Riddle said his organisation had not been consulted, adding: "It\’s very easy to criticise from the sidelines."
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\r\nThe proposals met with a mixed response from politicians and academics. Richard Kerley, a professor of management at Queen Margaret University, said: "I am not fundamentally persuaded by their major proposition, which is that all of the big-spending bodies should be, in effect, absorbed into government. It\’s not always the case government will necessarily do things more cheaply.
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\r\n"Some of the big-spending bodies have quite low running costs. The Scottish Funding Council, for example, handles a large amount of money, but doesn\’t have extravagant running costs."
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\r\nLabour finance spokesman Andy Kerr said: "I am unconvinced that this kind of centralising approach would reap any benefit for the taxpayer. Simply bringing functions into central government would not necessarily save money or improve services."
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\r\nBut Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis said: "These proposals should give us food for thought. Whilst it is absolutely right to look at the democratic accountability of all the quangos, we must also question their ability to deliver."