Today
Sat 23 October 2021

The Government is appointing its favourite candidates to powerful external agencies without proper recruitment processes or monitoring, David Hencke reports

The Government has failed to reduce its reliance on opaque outside bodies, while the current appointment system for public roles does not give confidence that it is efficient, transparent and fair, MPs warn today.

This comes after growing evidence that a slew of public appointments to major bodies have been awarded to Conservative Party insiders.

The MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found that the Cabinet Office is not keeping data when ministers override proposed public appointments to the 295 government bodies that spend £265 billion of public money every year and employ more than 300,000 people.

The quangos – official arms-length bodies – include major employers like NHS England, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and Ofsted. The Cabinet Office and the Treasury have overall responsibility for approving the creation of quangos and monitoring public appointments to them.

Over the last five years, since the Government promised a ‘bonfire of the quangos’, the Cabinet Office was supposed to review every one of them. However, the Cabinet Office has only reviewed a third of them, according to the National Audit Office (NAO), instead putting off many reviews for another five years.

The NAO also found that the Government had done virtually nothing to monitor public appointments and was not enforcing codes of practice to ensure that recruitment processes are transparent and fair, with no plan to implement more diversity among new recruits. The MPs warn that misjudged appointments could damage the reputation of the institutions themselves.

In fact, the MPs found that many new quangos had been created, spanning Brexit, transport, infrastructure and even a body to deal with complaints about aircraft noise. The report reveals that the Cabinet Office has not adhered to the rules for the creation of new quangos, which requires a business case to ensure that its work could not be carried out by other organisations – such as local government or devolved bodies.

The NAO examined the creation of 24 new quangos and found that none of them had followed every criteria, though some like the Office for Environmental Protection had put up a good case. A quarter of the new quangos hadn’t been subject to a cost-benefit analysis before their creation.

“The famous ‘bonfire of the quangos’ of a decade ago notably failed to spark and in fact we’ve seen Government wave through half-baked business cases for arms-length bodies too often since,” saidMeg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee. “The public appointments to lead these bodies lack transparency and accountability to an extent that poses a real risk to the reputation of the organisation and so to how Government delivers objectives using them.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “It’s crucial Arm’s-Length Bodies provide value for money and deliver for the public. That’s why they have strict oversight and spending controls, and our reform programme will ensure they operate to the highest standards. All departments’ compliance with appointment rules are monitored independently.”

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