Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Managerialism and the bonfire of the QUANGOS

I’m in an odd mood today. I woke up and got out of the wrong side of bed and was in a horrendous mood, but my nice followers on Twitter have cheered me up with dormice and baby otters. And coffee and chocolate have helped. But, I figure some writing will help too. Make me feel I’ve done something...And let's me rant.

Yesterday the news in Scotland was full of the open letter from a number of leading lights of the Scottish arts world condemning the new body Creative Scotland. A wonderful tweeting academic I know, Dr Dave O’Brien, is very interested in cultural value, managerialism and economism (the use of economic theory to justify decisions) in cultural policy so I pointed him in the direction just before I went swimming. After I got out the pool I discovered I had spawned quite a Twitter debate – some of it is storified here. The debate in the press is continuing today.

In all of this debate, it was this tweet, linking the bonfire of the QUANGOs to managerialism that got me thinking. It got me thinking especially because RCAHMs are a partner with me and Heriot-Watt on this project and they’re going to cease to exist in April next year along with the sixteen Police Forces and Fire and Rescue Services in Scotland. RCAHMS do amazing work, and as repondees to the Scottish Government consultation pointed out, when the equivalent English body was merged into English Heritage a lot of its work vanished and their archives are in no way as accessible as RCAHMS.

I’ve talked on here before, at length, on the rise of managerialism in Scotland with the National Performance Framework; for example in this post which went oddly viral among Scottish Government employees. I’d not made the mental link between this and the bonfire of the QUANGOs but it is obvious and was obvious to me when I worked for the Scottish Government. The bonfire of the QUANGOs which the SNP Scottish Government announced when they first came to power in 2007 was actually a national target.

Housing and regeneration was one of the first areas to be affected by this. Communities Scotland, created in 2001 (I think) to take over from Scottish Homes and bring in the Scottish Executive’s regeneration function was one of the first to go. This is even though it was increasingly winning plaudits within the sector for some of the work it was doing. The housing regulation role was brought into the Scottish Government. Then, I believe, it was pointed out that you cannot have a government department regulating another government department, especially when they’re next door to each other in an open-plan office. So, lo and behold, a new QUANGO was created, the Scottish Housing Regulator. And in classic bureau-shaping, they’re exploding the role of regulation of landlords so the sector is feeling very much over-regulated right now. Never mind the fact that housing associations now cannot have their own complaints policies because the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman has decided this for us.

This was all fine, of course. Nobody likes QUANGOS. It’s an ugly word. They’re unaccountable. They just waste taxpayers money – right? And what matters in the New Scotland is outcomes, not who delivers them. But now the QUANGOS have burnt, they’re turning to other organisations, with the Police and Fire and Rescue Services going, all in the name of efficiency in delivering outcomes. And the Public Services Reform Act gives Scottish ministers astounding powers to get rid of public bodies or meddle in their running (that's why the SPSO are telling housing associations what to do). And next on the bonfire is local government. It doesn’t matter if Scots are the least represented people by local government in Europe, all these Chief Execs and HR departments are clearly a waste of money and the outcomes we want to create in Glasgow are exactly the same as those we want to create in Wick – never mind the local context, or God forbid, the local politics. Politics? This is all about management and improving outcomes.

As Andy Wightman so forcibly argues we need more local government in Scotland, not less. Outcomes need to be coproduced and for that to happen people need to feel empowered by democratic structures, not managed by a gigantic technocracy that waves the National Performance Framework in your face every time you make any criticism. The sort of managerialism that "we must meet outcomes" produces leads to the poor engagement and communication that the artists complain about with Creative Scotland. If you enter a debate with the attitude "this meets outcomes therefore it is right" then you will treat anyone who questions you as a naysayer who doesn't know how to meet outcomes, or usually the fob-off of "they don't understand the outcomes approach". 

Yes I do understand the outcomes approach, but I care about how we get there as much as getting there. Killing lots of poor people would help us meet outcomes, but let's not be doing it, alright?

Just to get Political a bit more on this, I also have to link this to the present discussion on independence in Scotland. To nail my colours to the mast, I think Scotland should have much greater fiscal devolution, but in a World of global capital flows, independence will make as much difference as a chocolate fire guard. I really could not give two-hoots. But I do get concerned about the debate we’re having. In the draft of Johann Lamont’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference she made this point (it’s now vanished) that it seems that any attack on the SNP and their policies is taken, or reformed in public discourse, as an attack on Scotland itself, which is very worrying indeed. But it also allows, I believe, for national institutions, and the Scottish Government, to erode the power of subordinate government or QUANGOS that actually do a very good job because it’s in “Scotland’s interest”, never mind that Scotland is actually a very diverse place.


  1. Local government in Scotland has been emasculated even more than in England, starting with the council tax freeze.

  2. Niall, if this was Facebook I would like that. It makes me so angry as well.