Thursday, February 14, 2008

You've been Quango'd!

The news today that quangoes are totally unrepresentative of Britain comes as no surprise. The BBC reported the results of a NLGN survey that found four London Boroughs - Camden, Islington, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea - control 15% of the quango membership in England. The report draws the conclusion - “Looking at England as a whole, within each region there are clear concentrations of power, postcodes which are clearly more likely to produce the ‘great and good’ for seats on quango Boards. We suspect that the poorer the area you live in, the less likely you are to climb to the heights of quango board membership.”

Of course, the focus of this report is on geography - nothing about diversity in terms of gender or ethnicity for instance. Now, I am sure that would produce even more shocking results. Only this week I was chatting to a friend who had been on a PCT in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London, where there was now no BME representation whatsoever. What contributes to this perpetuation of inequity? I was thinking aloud on Saturday, as a guest of Epping Forest Lib Dems, about whether the fact that we had never had a revolution in this country contributed to the malaise that leads to a continuation of the concentration of power with the "great and good" elite? (It's OK, the only revolution I am advocating is one that revolutionises our political system!)

At the moment our policy for localism has been considering part of the picture, but the whole system of unelected unaccountable quangoism merits our further attention. Nick Clegg has rightly been drawing attention to the "broken" nature of our political system, at the moment it seems to me our approach to mending it is a tad piecemeal. Let's look at what our ideal system looks like, at a macro and micro level. Of course, one of the most powerful ways to achieve a more representative legislature is PR, but what about all the other decision making, at a national, local and individual level? Are there decisions which can only be taken by a quango? What are they and why? If we end up with a more politicised system, what checks and balances are needed?

If it does nothing else this report should spur us all to action, the tragedy is that, as the saying goes, if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got!

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