Following the announcement last week from Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, highlighting that the Government is halfway through its quango reform programme, two academics have suggested that it is ‘narrow and possibly naïve’ to assume that accountability is increased by abolishing quangos and moving their functions closer to ministers.
While acknowledging the speed and extent of the current public bodies reform agenda Professor Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield) and Professor Chris Skelcher (University of Birmingham) challenge the suggestion that the reforms will increase accountability to the public.
Writing in the latest edition of Public Money and Management, they say:
“First and foremost, to assume that accountability is necessarily increased by drawing functions closer to ministers seems to adopt a rather narrow and possible naïve approach to the topic. Narrow in the sense that arm's-length bodies are held to account through a set of procedures of which upwards accountability to ministers is just one form… And naïve in the sense that where quangos have been abolished elsewhere, and their functions absorbed within ministerial departments, the outcome has generally been less accountability rather than more… because functions had been placed back within a highly-politicised, partisan and adversarial environment.”
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