Essay Politics 1A

Essay Question

Is it of any consequence that Non Departmental Bodies (‘Quango’s) lack democratic accountability?

In order to understand the accountability of Quangos we must first understand what they truly are and then from their definition we can progress to examine whether or not they can be and should be held accountable by the people whose money they spend, the taxpayer themselves.

“The world of the Quango is inhabited by organisations referred to by political scientists as many things including to name a few, ‘fringe bodies’, ‘non- departmental organisation….. ‘semi-autonomous authorities’ and ‘quangos’”. (British politics 3rd edition coxall & robins pg 333) As can be seen by the above definition and also the contents of the chapter referring to quangos in most part, in any book that can be referred to, the definitions for quangos are varied, different and in most part very confusing.

The word quango was coined to describe \'quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations\'. Quangos spend taxpayers\' money, are ultimately responsible to central government and are unelected. They can be local or national bodies can be advisory bodies or be responsible for delivering services. They operate at arms length from government and therefore are more independent of central government than, for example, civil servants. However, there is widespread disagreement about exactly which organisations can be classed as quangos. According to the government the number of quangos has gone down since 1979. But according to others the number has risen quite dramatically (See table 1.1). Whatever the case, quangos have become one of the main issues in the debate about democracy. “there is an executive quango for every 10,000 people in the U.K” (Hall and Weir 1996)

(British politics 3rd edition coxall & robins)

The Democratic Audit’s 1996 Quango count

No of Quangos

NHS Bodies


Advisory Bodies


Non departmental/executive quangos


Local executive quangos


Career Service Companies


City Technology Colleges


Further education Corporate bodies


Grant maintained Schools


Higher education Corporations


Housing Associations


Local Enterprise Companies


Police Authorities


Training and Enterprise Councils


The total Quango Count


The existence of quangos is undeniable, but of course it is those who sit on the bodies themselves that make up the complexion of the certain quango and therefore contribute to decision making powers that ultimately effect people. But who are these people and how do they acquire these positions of “power”?

Democratic Audit claims that 65,419 people currently sit on quangos. They are mostly appointed by the relevant Minister or by someone else he or she has appointed. The procedure and criteria for selecting and appointing people to quangos are secret. There is a list of candidates, held by the Public Appointments Unit, which is also secret. Once appointed, the government does release names and brief details of career, but it does not as a matter of course publish other information and does not, for example, say what if any the appointees\' political affiliations are.

There is some concern that a disproportionate number of quango appointees have had links with the Conservative party. For example Baroness Denton, when a DTI minister in charge of making many quango appointments, said she had \'never knowingly appointed a Labour supporter.\' A recent study discovered that 62 of the 185 NHS Trust chairmen, including three former Tory MPs, had clear links with the Conservative party. However, the Nolan Committee has recommended that Ministers should not be completely free to make these decisions: a commissioner should be appointed to check that \'suitable\' and experienced people are appointed and that jobs are not handed out for political purposes.

Already we can see the concern of lack of accountability building up slowly towards the quango system. What is a Quango? Many argue they lack definition and also why so much secrecy surrounds the appointment and role of people sitting on the respective quangos? But many other concerns are also entailed.

Concerns about local quangos have been expressed in two areas. Firstly there has been the change caused to the balance between central and local government, given that the quangos are in general ultimately accountable to central government. Doubts have been raised about the adequacy of central accountability: the doctrine of ministerial responsibility in a modern department stretches credibility. In addition the line of accountability from a local quango to the minister can be long and indirect. Furthermore there is a powerful argument for making bodies which determine local