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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 16:31 GMT
Salmond lights the quango fires
Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

The issue of what do with Scotland's plethora of public bodies has long occupied the minds of ministers, past and present.
Burning boat
The plans came hot on the heels of Up Helly Aa

Following various attempts to get the often referred to "bonfire of the quangos" under way, the current Scottish Government now claims to have taken the lead.

Pyrotechnician-in-chief Alex Salmond announced to parliament, just a few days after Up Helly Aa - Britain's biggest fire festival on Shetland - that the number of national public organisations would be cut to 121 - the lowest number since devolution.

All this, the first minister said, would be achieved without the need for compulsory job cuts.

It is hoped the plans to abolish or merge 52 bodies - of which there were almost 200 hundred in October 2007 - will cut red tape and boost efficiency.

Mr Salmond insisted public organisations were a vital part of Scottish life, employing more than a fifth of the workforce, but said the sum total had created a "confusing array of organisational roles, remits and functions".

I do confess to a penchant for police and prisons
Annabel Goldie
Scottish Conservative leader

"Our aim is clear", he said. "We want a simple and effective public sector - one that's focussed, delivers results and helps facilitate Scotland's economy."

The changes will be felt across a range of areas, including housing, enterprise and children's services.

Giving some examples, the first minister said the government's plans would cut the number of official, annual visits to sheep farmers, under the sheep identification and dip proposal, from 450 to 100.

On child welfare, he said that, discussing the need and action in relation to a single child could require 29 local processes, 63 possible meetings and 108 documents. This, he said, could not continue.

"Closer to home," Mr Salmond went on, "My predecessor's plan for a flag pole at Bute House required both a planning consent and a listed building consent. And there is still no flag pole at Bute House."

Fulton MacKay as Mr MacKay and Ronnie Barker as Norman Stanley Fletcher in Porridge
Nicol Stephen's festive viewing habits were discussed

Despite this drive, opposition parties raised an eyebrow that the inferno may be more of a small, smouldering heap.

Labour leader Wendy Alexander said that since last May, 24 bodies had been set up - only one of which was on the assassination list.

She warned there was a danger of public bodies being not classed as such. "A rose by any other name", she said.

Raising similar concerns, Nicol Stephen, the Liberal Democrat leader, accused ministers of not counting what they were creating.

He likened the initiative to an episode from the prison comedy drama Porridge, where, when asked what the show's anti-hero did with the dirt from an escape tunnel, said another one had been dug to store it.

Conservative leader Annabel Goldie warned against the process becoming like re-shuffling and dealing a pack of cards and still ending up with a deck of 52.

But she did tell MSPs: "I do confess to a penchant for police and prisons."

After suggesting Mr Stephen spent his Christmas break watching re-runs of Porridge, the first minister said the bodies set up since the election included those which did not really cost anything, such as the flu advisory group, or shot-term organisations, including the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which would bring great benefits to Scotland.

The government has set 2011 as the date to achieve its target.

Even if MSPs do not think there is a bonfire before them, they might agree to class it as reasonably decent blaze.

SEE ALSO
Public body reforms at-a-glance
30 Jan 08 |  Scotland
Call over independence referendum
28 Oct 07 |  Scotland
Salmond defends sports sackings
17 Jan 08 |  Scotland

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