When the Conservative Party was last in opposition, quangos and quangocrats were a favourite, and merited, target for attack. The preponderance of public bodies under New Labour led Michael Howard to declare that while quangos “came to help and protect us… now we need protection from them.” David Cameron, meanwhile, promised in 2009 to slash the number of public bodies and stop ministers from hiding unpopular decisions behind the quangocrat’s “cloak of independence”.
Their disappearance from public debate might give the impression that Mr Cameron succeeded. Would that it were true. Public bodies now account for £220 billion of spending and employ 300,000 people.
It is not a moment too soon, therefore, for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, to take up the mantle of quango-slayer.
As well as campaigning to get civil servants back into their offices, Mr Rees-Mogg, this newspaper reports, has asked all secretaries of state to provide a list of government bodies that could be merged or closed. Top of the list for replacement appears to be the DVLA.
This should not become some quixotic campaign in which the deep state protects its budgets on the basis of “public safety”. As Mr Rees-Mogg himself has written, some quangos can and do play an essential role in Government.
Nevertheless, “public bodies should only exist when there is a pressing need, must be accountable to Parliament and be efficient and effective.”
Those are words that all of government should live by.