The second excellent article from this week's Sunday Times is this offering from Charles Clover ...
Here and there on a beach this summer lies a troubled figure, a permanent secretary or shadow cabinet member struggling to work out why government costs so much. Ministers may be in denial but everyone else knows cuts are inevitable. As are yelps of pain.
Hospitals and schools are predisposed to squeal and on fashionable issues such as the environment there will be furious accusations that the government is abandoning its commitments to do something about climate change, sustainable development, energy saving and so on. The general assumption is that green quangos full of worthy people make the world better simply by existing.
Or do they? I was trying to put myself in the place of a nerve-racked cost-cutter this week and thinking how I would slash at the area I know well, the environment, when one of the government’s new quango chairmen did my work for me, simply by opening his mouth.
His name is Will Day, the incoming head of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), one of the government’s many advisers on green matters. In his first interview as green adviser to the prime minister, Day gave us the startling insight that building coal-fired power stations would provide a “lightning rod” for international protests. He followed this aperçu from the press cuttings with the observation that it was not the time to build a third runway at Heathrow. This assertion could have come from anyone in Greenpeace or WWF. He finished by remarking that politicians would have to make unpopular decisions if they wanted to tackle global warming. As an example of the crashingly obvious that takes some beating.
Unimpressed, I was prompted to look up the records for the predecessor body to the one Day now heads, then called the Government Panel on Sustainable Development. In 1997, when Labour took office, it consisted of six experts under the chairmanship of Sir Crispin Tickell, with one civil servant in support. As far as I can see, in 1999 the whole outfit cost a mere £52,000. It offered Tony Blair, as it had John Major before him, occasional slim first-class reports flagging up environmental problems and recommending priorities.
By ... last month, the SDC had become a sort of Friends of the Earth within government. It had a budget of £4.1m a year, 15 commissioners, a secretariat of 61 and a panel of 600 “stakeholders”.
It produced many reports, some of indifferent quality, one advocating massive state spending on a “green new deal”, another suggesting the state build an otherwise uneconomic Severn barrage. It lobbied ministers and posted comments on everything the government did. Its costs rose, thanks to the demands of devolution, which requires it to service the regional development agencies.
There didn’t seem to be too much downward pressure. I remember the SDC was looking for a director three or four years ago and even then it was paying more than £90,000 a year — at least a third more than any middle-ranking professional environmentalist would have done it for. As this was the civil service, it also offered a retirement age of 60 and a final salary pension — now almost unheard of in the private sector.
The SDC was a child of its time. But it should be seen as just one of dozens of case studies of empire-building, duplication and mission creep under Labour. The story of its rampant growth illustrates why, even in the most “deserving” areas, there is fat to burn. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (staff 3,500) is dwarfed by its agencies. With 2,323 staff, Natural England, the wildlife and landscape agency, is far bigger than the two bodies that were amalgamated to create it in 2005 — the Countryside Agency (staff 625) and English Nature (930).
We can no longer afford to pay for non-governmental organisations within the government or the excess verbiage that comes with them. That means the SDC must be slashed or merged, as must dozens of other impeccably worthy-sounding bodies created or fattened under New Labour.
This article slightly abridged - if you want to read the whole thing, it's here.
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