Quangos cut axes 192 organisations, from watchdogs to wine experts
The government was tonight accused of making unjustifiable cuts in its much anticipated "bonfire of the quangos" after it couldn't say how much money would be saved.
, the cabinet office minister, outlined plans to abolish 192 government agencies, merge 118 and reform 171. Thousands of jobs will go and as many will be transferred to new departments in the biggest shakeup of government the coalition has made. Overall, 901 bodies will be reduced to 648, with 40 under review.
Maude said the move would "restore accountability and responsibility" to public life. "For too long, this country has tolerated ministers who duck the difficult decisions they were elected to make. For too long, we have had too many people who were unaccountable, with a licence to meddle in people's lives," he said.
Business leaders welcomed the move but there was considerable backlash. Labour demanded to know how much the plans would save and how many jobs would be lost and Christopher Kelly, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said plans to disband the local government watchdog would leave councils open to corruption.
Maude dismissed claims that abolishing bodies responsible for reducing teenage pregnancy, promoting women's rights and healthy school food meant they had abandoned those agendas, telling the Commons such accusations were "childish". But he declined to say how much the reforms would cost, stressing that they are designed to improve accountability.
Last week the Guardian revealed that the government was facing a multibillion-pound bill to pay for pension, redundancy and contractual liabilities of the organisations and in some cases it could be a decade before savings are felt.
The cuts affected all corners of the public sector: British Nuclear Fuels Limited and the Youth Justice Board will be abolished; British Waterways will become a charitable trust; the Audit Commission and Film Council will close; the Competition Commission will merge with the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading.
The World Service and the British Council – along with a string of museums and the British Library – have won reprieves and the Equality and Human Rights Commission will be retained.
The list also reveals that some 30 advisory committees and panels are being stripped of their non departmental public body status and converted to become "committees of experts". Last night the Cabinet Office could not say what the difference between an advisory committee and a committee of experts is or how much money it would save. Advisory committees on hazardous substances, packaging and pesticides will all be turned into committees of experts.
Kelly, who conducted the first inquiry into the expenses scandal last year, said today that the scrapping of Standards for England, which monitors standards among local politicians, would leave local government open to abuse. He said: "This would set local councillors apart from almost every other holder of public office, including Members of Parliament."
Paul Noon, general secretary of civil service union Prospect, said: "In many cases the government is abolishing bodies that cost peanuts but provide invaluable scientific or expert advice to government. In other cases the costs of closure are greater than their running costs, or closure runs directly counter to the prime minister's call for a big society."
Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: "The previous government was too keen on delegating policy-making to bodies outside government departments. This created an ambiguity about where responsibility for policy-making resided, a problem that hasn't gone away. The government now needs to ensure that eliminating and reforming quangos is just the beginning of a wider process of moving to a smaller state."