Quangos are London-centric shock! would be the headline version of my first thoughts on the news:
“The New Local Government Network found that more quango members live in four London boroughs than the whole of the North of England.
It says quangos are responsible for spending more than £123bn a year.”
In case you don’t know what a quango is, the NLGN are happy to tell you:
Quangos are non-departmental Government bodies with a combined spending of £123bn a year. Their expenditure accounts for 21% of public spending. They also have considerable influence over the formulation and implementation of Government policy. Whilst the research argues that many quangos perform their function effectively, it questions why the people running these organisations should be based so heavily in the South of England. It also argues that “national diversity” should be taken into account when recruiting people to manage and run quangos.
The report is called “You’ve Been Quango’d!” and is available to read on their website, should you be interested.
The report’s author, Chris Leslie, director of the NLGN, makes the following points:
“Looking at England as a whole, within each region there are clear concentrations of power, postcodes which are clearly more likely to produce the ‘great and good’ for seats on quango Boards. We suspect that the poorer the area you live in, the less likely you are to climb to the heights of quango board membership.”
Quite. In this, the internet age, is it not possible to have talented people from across England appointed to quangos?
Or could it be that rather than merit, Establishment membership is the basis of appointment to a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation…?
And why aren’t these quangos accountable to the English parliament?
Well, becasue there isn’t an English parliament.
The New Local Government Network – a think-tank inclined towards New Labour (give-aways being the use of “modernisation” and the list of corporate partners) is keen on elected mayors, regionalisation, and what it calls “New Localism”.
What was Old Regionalism, I wonder?
Well, Wikipedia describes New Localism thusly:
a concept associated with Tony Blair’s Labour government in the United Kingdom. It is intended to indicate a cautious devolution of power to the local level in an attempt to better implement national goals.
So Old Localism must indicate a willing devolution of power to the local level? Or at least, the ability of local government to respond to democratic pressures and actively resist the policies of the central government, as the Greater London Council and Liverpool Council did in the 1980s.
I think we know why the devolution of power has been cautious…
From the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, the demand is for more power – and Brown is as cautious as Bliar, perhaps more so. New Labour dominated both devolved institutions until last year, when the SNP formed a minority government in Scotland and Labour was forced to share power with Plaid Cymru in Wales.
One demand that neither Brown nor his probable successor, David Cameron, are willing to concede to is the demand for an English parliament. It might not be the top of the list for socialists at the moment – but we must realise that the ability of the Scottish and Welsh governments to challenge some of New Labour’s neoliberal policies will be realised by more and more people in England.
Consider the case of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Historically disputed territory but currently part of England, the fact some of New Labour’s “reforms” – such as tuition fees – have not been implemented north of the border is enough to make defection to Scotland desirable.
Devolution’s erosion of the centralised British state is leading towards the ultimate break-up of the UK. Socialists in England should welcome this process – because it enables neoliberal policies of privatisation and war to be challenged in Scotland and Wales – and support the establishment of an English parliament, with a fair electoral system and MPs on an average worker’s wage, the better to challenge neoliberalism here!