Merryn's Blog

Pay for quango bosses is out of control

Nobody knows how many quangos there are, nor how much they’re costing us. But with some chief executives getting nearly £1m a year, it adds up to a quite a tidy sum, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

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Queen Street in Edinburgh is sometimes referred to as Quango Street. Why? Walk down it and every second sign tells you that the building is inhabited by either a charity or a group of supposedly semi-independent but state-financed government agencies.

There's been no "bonfire of the quangos" in the south and there has been none up here either this article in the Spectator from last year is good on the matter.

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There's been no real attempt to analyse quangos either. The Sunday Times this week reports a public accounts committee report in 2014 as saying: "There is no agreement on how many types of body exist. There are overlaps and blurring between categories. Accountability arrangements have so far been ad hoc."

This is more than just an irritation. It is a huge expense. In Scotland more than 40 quango bosses are paid more than £141,000 (so more than the first minister) and in the south the salaries are even more extreme.

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The Sunday Times article makes the point well this week. Annual accounts for 2014/15 show that the head of Crossrail (Andrew Wolstenholme) was paid £910,000 over the year; Simon Kirby of HS2 got £750,000 (six times what his predecessor got); Martin Wheatley (the last head of the FCA) got £701,000; and John Clarke of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authorty got £573,000.

Add all that lot up and you get real money. You also get a good number of quango bosses on total packages worth rather more than the prime minister (his salary is £142,500, but add in his benefits and his package is I would guess worth around £400,000).

Here's what the Taxpayers' Alliance has to say on the matter: "A lot of these hugely expensively managed bodies can hardly justify their existence, let alone such ludicrous paypackets for their chiefs. The number, scope and budget of quangos should be drastically reduced." Hard to argue with that.

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