Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 15:20 UK

Tories pledge to cut back quangos

David Cameron: "We want to make quangos more democratically accountable"

David Cameron has pledged to cut the number of unelected quangos to save money and increase accountability.

The Tories would close one schools quango, while media regulator Ofcom would be stripped of its policy-making role, he told the Reform think-tank.

Mr Cameron will ask shadow cabinet ministers to identify which bodies within their areas should be cut back.

This weekend the government announced a review of public bodies in a bid to ensure cash goes to frontline services.

Mr Cameron told the BBC he was not planning a "bonfire of the quangos", as had been promised in the past by former Tory deputy PM Michael Heseltine and by Gordon Brown when he was in opposition.

'Technical functions'

In his speech to Reform, the Conservative leader said the "growth of the quango state" was "one of the main reasons so many people feel that nothing ever changes, nothing will ever get done and that government's automatic response to any problem is to pass the buck and send people from pillar to post until they just give up in exasperated fury".

He added: "Too many state actions, services and decisions are carried out by people who cannot be voted out by the public, by organisations that feel no pressure to answer for what happens - in a way that is completely unaccountable."

Many of them will be slimmed down radically, pay levels will be completely different and some of them will be abolished
David Cameron

Earlier, Mr Cameron told the BBC Breakfast programme: "There are some quangos that have a technical function - inspecting nuclear installations. Or they have a transparency function - like the Office for National Statistics.

"But in too many cases these organisations have got bigger and bigger. They spend about £64bn a year, they start having their own communications departments, their own press officers; they start making policy rather than just delivering policy - and their bosses are paid vast amounts of money."

He said too many quangos had become "lobbying organisations" and there was a duplication where both they and government departments were making policy.

Media regulator Ofcom would lose its policy-making functions under the Tories and the schools' Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), which develops the national curriculum, would be closed.

Pay levels

But another quango, Ofqual, the exams regulator, would be retained.

Mr Cameron says many have been "empire building" and 68 quango heads were now paid more than the prime minister.

Figures vary on the exact number and cost of quangos - quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations.

The government says there are 790; others, including the pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance, say there are 1,162. As a result the estimated cost varies from £34bn to about £60bn.

Mr Cameron told the BBC: "Many of them will be slimmed down radically, pay levels will be completely different and some of them will be abolished."

He says it is not just about saving money but making quangos more "democratically accountable".

How can they be free from the political preference of Government, when it is the government that puts them there in the first place?
John Adair, Christmas Island

An Ofcom spokesman said the organisation welcomed the issues raised but was surprised to be singled out.

"As Ofcom is itself a product of regulatory rationalisation - merging five regulators into one in 2004 - we are surprised at being highlighted in the speech.

"Since its establishment, Ofcom has delivered five consecutive years of real-terms budget reductions, reduced headcount by more than 300 people and saved more than £117m in the process - a 21% reduction."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne said the government would review quangos to try to "make sure every penny of public money goes to frontline services".

Mr Byrne said the Conservative proposals included the creation of at least another 17 quangos, a claim rejected by the Tories.

But Councillor Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, (LGA) which represents English councils said it was "time for a radical overhaul of the quango state" to give taxpayers more influence over how their money is spent.

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