Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My descent into quango hell

Ever wonder why the Government needs so much of your hard-earned money? It doesn’t all go on schools and hospitals, you know.

Some of it goes on “increasing the profile of trees”, giving new “groupings” of councils a “kick start” and “scoping” a workplace health and well-being strategy.

When our civil servants aren’t busily employing consultants to carry out a “Regional Habitat Regulations Assessment”, they’re attending meetings of about the Offa’s Dyke Regeneration Strategy Study.

I’m not making this up. This and much more is contained in a report by Olwen Dutton, one of our quango queens, who is chief executive of the soon-to-be-disbanded West Midlands Regional Assembly.

By mistake I had a look. I couldn’t put it down. It’s certainly not a right riveting read – it’s written in a language only bureaucrats understand, all about key partners, stakeholders and sustainable developments.

What’s hideously fascinating, though, is what it tells us about what goes in our name. No doubt all this activity can be justified and certainly explains why our civil servants are so busy.

But the economy is shot to pieces, public spending is out of control and we will be the last developed country to emerge from recession.

Do we really want to employ a new “Coordinator/Facilitator Officer” to regenerate Offa’s Dyke?

As for increasing the profile of “the trees, woods and forests sector”, it seems even those involved in the Regional Forestry Framework, need to be reminded of its achievements to “re-enthuse participants”.

Still, at least we’ve got sub-regional focus groups trying to “engage the various Traveller communities across the Region” supported by Gypsy and Traveller History Month and £2.5 million to pay for new camps.

You’ll be pleased to hear the Kick Start Partnership “continues its roll out of the programme of expansion with new groupings of local authorities joining in order to improve the efficiency of service delivery”.

It’s just such a pity HBoS cancelled its financial support.

Hidden in this report are serious threats, however. In among the waffle about the “Sub-Regional Housing Market Area Partnerships” it seems the green belt is up for grabs.

When they’re not “monitoring of the regional housing pot” or working on the “West Midlands Regional Climate Change Action Plan”, they’re employing more consultants.

One lot are “up-dating” the Regional Flood Risk Appraisal – you’d have thought someone might have done that two years on from the last serious floods.

Still, at least the Regional Environment Group is proposing to respond to the Severn and Humber draft River Basin Management Plan consultations and input into the new Regional Landscape Partnership.

This seems to have something to do with “the requirements of the European Landscape Convention” whatever that may be.

And engineering consultants Mott Macdonald are studying “the present state of the green belt within the West Midlands”.

This is “the first stage of a process to consider how more positive uses of Green Belt could contribute to the achievement of the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy and its aims for Urban and Rural Renaissance”.

Think we know what that means – they plan to build all over the green belt.

Well, you don’t employ an engineering and development consultancy to report that the Green Belt should be protected and preserved at all costs, do you?

More consultants are carrying out a “Regional Habitat Regulations Assessment” and another lot are developing a “Regional Historic Environment Strategy”.

With all this going on, it’s just as well we’re getting “the first Waste Infrastructure programme in the Region which has set up a Waste Infrastructure Board”.

Talking of waste, bids for EU money – that is, our own money minus fifty per cent – are being planned and West Midlands in Europe is “examining best practice in integrated strategy development and delivery”.

Luckily, we’ve got someone on the EU Committee of the Regions Automotive Group and Advantage West Midlands is bidding for a “Knowledge Innovation Community that would give the region the potential to act as a catalyst linking key climate change developments in the region with EU regions and cities in the same field, focussing particularly on domestic housing and transport”.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Health and Well-being Partnership’s “strategy” has an action plan.

This includes 2,370 physical activity sessions, 1,100 mental wellbeing sessions, 540 healthy eating sessions, 490 professionals engaged in training activity, 400 partner organisations contacted, 150 volunteers, 110 sessions relating to consultation, research and scoping activities and 9,000 beneficiaries.

They’re “supporting the Workplace Health workshop at the forthcoming Work,
Wealth and Health conference” and “looking at the overarching issue of project sustainability” – which in English means they’re worried where the money will come from in future.

And there’s an EU human rights project to work on which will cost someone about £500,000.

It’s difficult to tell what most of these projects and initiatives are about because nothing is written in English. It’s all in Quangoese where words mean whatever they want them to mean.

What this brief descent into Quango hell does prove, though, is that there is lots going on. The real issue is what would happen if they just stopped doing it.

And the answer is, I’m afraid, that nothing would happen. Nobody would notice. None of us would be any worse off.

Committees, reports, consultancies, appraisals, workshops, partnerships and the rest of it are substitutes for actually doing something. They give an impression of dynamic activity. And nothing happens. Nothing ever happens. It’s Waiting For Godot in real life.

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