2006-01-15

No "Bonfire of the QUANGOs" in Scotland After All

The number of staff employed by the public sector in Scotland has increased by 7_000 in the last year and now stands at 487_000. While there are now 2_300 fewer civil servants in Scotland than there were last year, there are 1_600 more people working for QUANGOS. First Minister Mr.Henry Mcleish Rather than the 'bonfire of the quangos' -- first pledged by 'The Scottish New Labour party' in 1995 and repeated by First Minister Mr.Henry Mcleish, in 2001 -- there are now 11_400 Scots working for QUANGOs: an increase of 3_300 or 40 per cent since 1999. In the last year, the number of QUANGO employees in Scotland has increased by 16 per cent, a rise of 1_600. While the number of civil servants has actually fallen by 2 per cent in the last 12 months, this is almost cancelled out by the rise in the number employed by quangos. QUANGOs are organisations such as 'The Scottish Social Services Council', 'The Crofters' Commission' or 'The Scottish Arts Council', bodies which are kept at 'arm's length' from the government but are staffed by state employees and are created and monitored by 'The Scottish Executive'. Over the same six-year period, the number of Scots in the armed forces has gone down by 2_100 (14 per cent) while numbers in the fire service have only risen by 1.5 per cent. The country's reliance on the public sector for employment is shown by the fact that more than 23 per cent of employed Scots now work for the state. The Public Services Minister Mr.Tom Mcabe, applauded the figures, claiming they showed 'The Scottish Executive's' success in recruiting more frontline teachers, nurses and police officers. But analysis of the statistics showed that while there has been a 5 per cent increase in the number of teachers in Scotland since 1999, there has been a 46 per cent rise in the number of 'other educational staff', including classroom assistants and administrators. The statistics also appear to call into question 'The Scottish Executive's' high-profile commitment to make efficiency savings in the civil service - saving money in administration to fund investment in frontline services. There are about 150 QUANGOs in Scotland and, despite repeated pledges by 'The Scottish Executive' to light a 'bonfire of the quangos', this figure shows no sign of coming down. Many of these bodies are advisory and do not employ any staff; but there are about 30 main 'Scottish Executive' QUANGOs and these are the ones with the big staff numbers, and also the ones which have grown over the past six years. A spokesman for 'The Scottish Executive' insisted that the efficiency savings were working and they were 'not just about reducing numbers'. She said:
'In terms of efficient government, the main objective is to make sure things are more efficient and effective; it's not just driven by cuts.'
And defending the growth in quangos, she said:
'NDPBs do have a valuable function which is crucial to the Executive's priorities.'
The spokesman stressed that a number of QUANGOs had been created since 1999 out of other organisations and this had affected the figures. 'Careers Scotland', she said, was now doing work previously done by local authorities while 'VisitScotland' had assumed the role of the old area tourist boards. The Public Services Minister was more bullish, insisting the figures represented good news for Scotland. He said:The Public Services Minister
'The rise in the number of teachers, police and health service staff over the last few years is evidence that our investment, coupled with a strong economy, is making a real difference. 'Overall employment in Scotland -- both private and public sector -- is at an "all time high" and we have an economy that is stronger and more stable than it has been for generations,'
But this assessment of the situation was disputed by the opposition. Mr.Murdo Fraser, the deputy leader of 'The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party', described the figures as 'appalling' and warned that 'The Scottish Executive's ' obsession with the public sector was 'ruining Scotland'. He said:Murdo Fraser
'The biggest growth industry in Scotland is in government. 'No-one minds more policemen, teachers and nurses, but too many of these [other] jobs are non-productive. 'How is it that we have had a 12 per cent increase in Scottish government staff since 1999 and a 40 per cent rise in the number of full-time staff employed by QUANGOs? 'The reason is that the Labour/Lib Dem Executive wants to centralise, regulate and control every aspect of our lives.'
And he added:
'Over 50 per cent of GDP is now spent by the state. 'The Executive keeps on telling us that economic growth is its top priority, but what it fails to understand is that the staggering growth in the public sector over which it has presided is stifling the ability of private business to generate wealth.'
Mr.John Swinney, for 'The Scottish National Party', said:John Swinney
'The Scottish Executive is growing bigger and bigger by the day. 'This is blatant hypocrisy, considering the Executive is forcing local authorities to make efficiencies but is not making the same level of efficiency itself. 'In some cases, local authorities are making ten times the efficiencies of government departments. 'This is completely unfair and clearly shows the Executive is feather-bedding its own departments while punishing local authorities.'
'The Scottish Executive' did find allies for its approach yesterday 2006-01-13. 'UNISON', the public service union, and 'The Educational Institute of Scotland' ( 'The EIS'), the biggest teaching union, rallied to give The Public Services Minister support. Mr.Dave Watson, for 'UNISON', defended public sector employment, stating:
'The public sector provides the transport, education, training, health and housing that enable private industry to continue.'
A spokesman for 'The EIS' also backed 'The Scottish Executive', despite the huge rise in educational support staff and the much more modest increase in teacher numbers. He said:
'The Executive is already committed to growing teacher numbers in line with workforce planning and we welcome the rise in the number of classroom assistants.'
'3,300 rise in staff who run Scotland's quangos', Hamish Macdonell, The Scotsman, 2006-01-14, Sa

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