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Quangos – not again… January 10, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Harry McGee in the IT is exercised by the lack of ‘culling’ by the last government. In one sense that is understandable. Both Fine Gael and Labour (to their shame) made great play over the idea that there would be a bonfire of the quangos.

Top of the class in the promise department was Fine Gael, which promised to abolish 145 quangos. Labour was a little more modest, it nevertheless promised “a reduction in the number of quangos and duplication of agencies and government departments”.
When parties are in opposition, their policy papers can be presented in clean and simple lines, as if something can be changed overnight or at the stroke of a pen.

But:

Fine Gael’s Reinventing Government was like that. When it actually attained power, it was met by a different reality. Culling quangos was a much more problematic proposition.
You couldn’t fire anybody so people had to be redeployed. In addition, it sometimes required legislation. There was also resistance from unions, from managers and from within the Civil Service. What seemed a quick win for the new coalition descended into a bit of a mush.
Like so much more in politics, the delivery did not quite live up to the promises.

Yet notable is the lack of actual justification for any of this. What about the services that quangos supplied? Did cost savings outweigh those? That question was never answered by FG or the LP, and certainly not in articles like this one which take it as read that cutting the numbers is a good in and of itself.

Indeed it is telling that since 2011 a considerable number have been established. Why would that be? Because in a contemporary complex society people have certain expectations that only the state can meet. Given the antipathy for the state to function as the state in and of itself and the apparently over-riding necessity to situation activity a step or two removed small wonder that:

When you subtract the new agencies, plus the 12 agencies already abolished by the previous Fianna Fáil government (but included in the coalition’s quango cull), the number falls to 36. By the end of 2017, the two Fine Gael-led governments will have established 26 new agencies at the very least, including the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the Low Pay Commission, the Credit Review Office, the Charity Regulatory Authority, New Era and the Politicking Authority.

McGee does not explain why any of those should not exist. Or indeed what alternative structures or methodologies would deliver the functions they do. Again this is taken as failure rather than the workings of a complex society. Of course matters change, at some point some state agencies, commissions or bodies will be supernumerary to requirements. But rather than seeing this as a necessary, indeed vital, dynamic instead we are treated yet again to a discourse where their very existence is questionable.

McGee quotes a 2016 report by Dr. Richard Boyle of the IPA. He writes:

As Dr Boyle noted in his paper, the overall savings amounted to €24 million: “At the macro level the changes made and savings accredited have been relatively small in scale . . . The object of delivering a simplified agency landscape with more transparency and less duplication is hard to assess at this stage due to limited evidence and because (the changes are relatively new).”

But I’d question the assumptions behind this. Transparency and a lack of duplication are fine, but why a simplified landscape? And note the fact he is not certain about whether that has been achieved or not.

I know a number of people in a range of agencies that saw mergers and frankly their stories from the inside seem to me to characterise artificial unions of quite disparate and distinct bodies. Moreover whatever about lack of duplication or transparency my sense is that accountability has been constrained by these mergers. That’s no small thing but telling that it isn’t noted in the piece.

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