A better way of reorganising quangos

Note: this post was written for a completely different purpose. Given today’s news, and the interest of this blog in quangos, mergers etc. for some while, it seemed pertinent to post it today.

If central government has to engage in top-down reorganisations of its various agencies – including its own departments, quangos and statutory bodies – then it might as well do it properly.

The proposal is simple: that at the centre, sitting within the Cabinet Office, is a flexibly-resourced team with the experience, expertise and track record of what it takes to deliver the successful reorganisation of organisations – be it through merging, acquisition, or decommissioning. When any one of these reorgansiations is required, the central team is called on to advise on and lead the complex reorganisation processes involved and ensure learning from all previous similar exercises is used and applied, and captured this time around for future use.

When the Equality & Human Rights Commission opened in October 2007 it represented the end of a significant transition period in which 3 existing equality commissions (disability, gender, race) were brought together by a transition team drawn from host government departments, the existing organisations themselves and consultants. The cost of this exercise was £39m and the Public Accounts Committee noted that, even then, the EHRC wasn’t ready for business and key business areas still needed work.

Indeed, the process for creating the EHRC was described as “patently flawed”.

At almost exactly the same time, the Care Quality Commission was created as the result of a merger between the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Healthcare Commission and the Mental Health Act Commission. For this another transition team, drawn from host government departments, the existing organisations themselves and consultants, was brought together.

As far as I know, not one conversation took place between the CQC merger team and the one that had managed the EHRC merger process, despite the obvious benefits in doing so.

The proposal recognises that the process of substantially altering organisations in any of the ways described is hugely complex, but that once you’ve been through it there is a substantial amount of experience you could call upon if you had to do it again.

However, you wouldn’t want to ignore the ‘local’ experience and knowledge that comes from staff within existing bodies. This is effectively the business case for using consultants in such scenarios.

Thus, instead of bringing in often expensive organisational design or merger consultants, the expert team sitting within the Cabinet Office is called upon. This saves time and money, and ensures valuable intelligence on the process is both used and captured for next time.

Over the next parliament, we know that quangos and all sorts of public bodies will merge or have their responsibilities moved to another body (see, for example, here). A team of the type suggested would be a cost-effective way of ensuring the lessons from the creation of the EHRC, the CQC and other such bodies can be applied in every new reorganisation.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

2 thoughts on “A better way of reorganising quangos”

  1. I’m not sure Whitehall ever learns any lessons from departmental musical chairs. Politicians, of every shade, certainly never do.
    My former department went through at least three major changes in the late 90s/early00s – I lost count. At an open session after one of the costly and morale sapping reorganisations, our new perm sec dismissed my question about Whitehall holding a lessons learnt exercise.
    She was right on one level because new governments and new ministers will always want to carve things up to their own desires irrespective of what officials might advise.
    Is that good for government?
    The government machine should not stand still. It has to adapt and modernise like any organisation. But, doing so without a coherent, long-term vision is plain stupid.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Peter.
    I agree that the government machine shouldn’t stand still. Given that, I think it’s even more important there’s a small team sitting at the centre advising and delivering on the best way to ensure government can evolve as effectively as possible.

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