Cuts to quangos are political, not financial

The full list of cuts to quangos reveals that it isn't quite the bonfire we were promised.

The full details of the Coalition's "bonfire of the quangos" have now filtered into the public domain (not helped by the fact that the Cabinet Office website has been down since early this morning).

It's a large and unwieldy set of data, but a few things immediately jump out: the Royal Mail is to be "transferred to the private sector over time"; BBC World Service survives to delight its global audience for a little longer (do read the NS's Antonia Quirke on the subject, by the way); and the UK Film Council is indeed to be scrapped.

First, the stats. The future of 901 separate quangos have been reviewed. 192 will be scrapped outright, with at least another hundred merged. The fate of a further 40, including the Student Loans Company, the Judicial Appointments Commission, and the Independent Safeguarding Authority, is still to be determined.

The impression that first Cameron, and now the Coalition, have tried to give through these reforms is of a radical slashing of public inefficiency. However, the really striking thing to me about this document is how many of these bodies will survive in one way or another. Andrew Sparrow, on his Guardian liveblog, has crunched some of the numbers, and it transpires that 380 quangos will survive intact, with a further 118 merged to become 57 bodies. Another 171 will be "substantially reformed", meaning that should the full recommendations of this review be implemented, at least two-thirds of the quangos reviewed will persist in some form or other.

Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude has been on the air today, emphasising how this cull will improve government accountability, although, crucially, he was unable to confirm how much money the reforms will save.

One worrying trend that emerges from this list is that of formerly independent bodies being absorbed into government departments. The Main Honours Advisory Committee moves inside the Cabinet Office, as does the policy responsibilities of the Big Lottery Fund. A host of tribunal services will now fall under the remit of the Ministry of Justice, and a number of health-related advisory committees will be consolidated into "Department of Health/Public Service committees of experts".

As I've argued previously, axing these quangos is less about delivering vast savings than about political positioning. Talk of "bonfires" is all very well, but the document itself indicates that few of these changes will happen immediately. And in many cases, the functions of these bodies cannot be completely erased and will have to be distributed elsewhere -- a remarkable number of entries use phrases like "will continue as a charity with the potential to become a community interest company" -- an operation that will take time, money, and manpower to achieve.

Liam Byrne has just told the House of Commons that at least two-thirds of these reforms were already planned under Labour. Talk of increasing government accountability or "rolling back bureaucracy" through these reforms is just presentation. The deeper objective for the Coalition is undoubtedly to transfer greater power to central and local goverment, and to exploit the public dislike of bureaucracy by appearing to slash through reams of red tape, no doubt as part of the spin strategy in advance of the spending review next week.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism