Did they ‘Read Before Burning’? The Coalition and Quangos

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Abstract

Attitudes to quangos are paradoxical. On the one hand they are perceived to be undemocratic, unaccountable organisations, while on the other they are seen to improve effectiveness, limit political interference and increase public confidence in government. This paradox is reflected in the behaviour of political parties, which generally adopt a harsh line towards quangos in opposition, but come to rely on these bodies in office. Ahead of the 2010 general election it was, however, noticeable that the Conservative party rejected this dynamic by promising to pursue ‘a more sophisticated approach’. This article explores the Coalition government's subsequent ‘public bodies reform programme’, assessing its progress against recommendations contained within the Institute for Government's Read before Burning report of July 2010. It concludes that while the Coalition has addressed long-standing concerns about the day-to-day governance of public bodies, it has failed to resolve a set of broader and strategic (metagovernance) issues.

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