Wednesday , April 14 2021
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Making do with the quangos we’ve got

Summary:
Victoria Street SW1  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister.” “Someone came up to me in the House yesterday and claimed we had too many quangos.” “I think you may be referring to Arm’s Length Bodies.  What did you say?” “Well, I had to admit that I didn’t know how many we have but I told him the number was just right.” “Quite correct, Minister.  We now only have 15 – it used to be more.” “Well, I suppose health and social care is a wide remit so we need a range of expertise. How many of the 15 help us on social care.” “The Care Quality Commission has just started taking an interest in social carers but apart from that, I regret to say the answer is zero.” “No wonder we can’t produce a Green Paper on it, Humphrey.  We have no quango to write it.” “We do have one in the works, Minister, as we have

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Victoria Street 

SW1 

 

“Humphrey.” 

“Yes, Minister.” 

“Someone came up to me in the House yesterday and claimed we had too many quangos.” 

“I think you may be referring to Arm’s Length Bodies.  What did you say?” 

“Well, I had to admit that I didn’t know how many we have but I told him the number was just right.” 

“Quite correct, Minister.  We now only have 15 – it used to be more.” 

“Well, I suppose health and social care is a wide remit so we need a range of expertise. How many of the 15 help us on social care.” 

“The Care Quality Commission has just started taking an interest in social carers but apart from that, I regret to say the answer is zero.” 

“No wonder we can’t produce a Green Paper on it, Humphrey.  We have no quango to write it.” 

“We do have one in the works, Minister, as we have frequently announced, but not having a policy means we cannot be blamed for failing to implement it.” 

“What has blame got to do with it?” 

“Everything, Minister. Quangos are a brilliant device: they are part of government and entirely independent at the same time. The NHS is, technically, a ‘non-departmental public body’ which means you are not to blame when things go wrong but you can take the credit when they don’t.” 

“So that was why I was able to wash my hands of the personal protective equipment supply disaster by saying Public Health England was to blame but as it is independent, I could not interfere.” 

“Unfortunately not, Minister. I think I was away at the time. Public Health England is an executive agency and is therefore fully accountable to you.” 

“Lucky the media failed to pick that up. In that case, I’m responsible for quite a lot.  Public Health England has a wide remit.” 

“It does indeed.  It aims to keep us fit and trim, free from sickness and debility. Such is their concern for our safety that when weddings return on April 12th, brides will not be allowed to kiss their grooms unless they have been living in sin.” 

“Humphrey, you’re joking?” 

“Not at all, Minister.  Social distancing must be maintained. And Public Health England is tackling violence against women.” 

“Violence against women?” 

“On 16th March, PHE announced that misogyny had become a pandemic and therefore fell within its remit. They have a seven point action plan to deal with it.” 

“Curfewing men from 6pm?” 

“That is not one of them, Minister. The actions include ‘A whole-system multi-agency approach to serious violence prevention’ and the appointment of ‘a Consultant in Public Health to lead on violence prevention. They [sic] will be responsible for developing and implementing an action plan which will seek to tackle the root causes of violence, incorporating serious youth violence, domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.’” 

“Is Dido Harding in charge of this?” 

“Worry not, Minister, she was at the time of the announcement but there have been developments.” 

“Has anyone informed the Home Office and the police that we have charge of preventing violence against women?” 

“With so many changes in hand that there is the possibility that the whole-system multi-agency communications have had a slippage. What is important, Minister, is that we have an underlying strategy to deal with all these crises.” 

“Really, Humphrey.  Have I been informed about that?” 

“Possibly not, Minister. The strategy is to respond to every crisis with a media release highlighting the role of our nearest ALB.  To avoid adding further ALBs, even for social care, we shuffle the existing deck to give the impression of effective action.” 

“So when we discovered last year that we needed Covid vaccines in a hurry, which of our quangos was given the job?” 

“I had to advise the Cabinet Office that our only candidate was Lady Harding and she was already fully occupied. The Cabinet Secretary, in a rare expression of wit, suggested that she was put to the test and disappeared without trace.  Did I not tell you, Minister?” 

“You certainly did not.  Vaccine procurement was clearly a matter for Public Health England. With their skills, what could’ve gone wrong?” 

“Well, I have to admit Kate Bingham has done a grand job. She’s a very bright person with a formidable and relevant CV and married to Jesse Norman.  Of course, she wouldn’t have fitted Public Health England.” 

“Why not, Minister?” 

“She read biochemistry at Oxford, not PPE. But we should not be talking about PHE any more.  You will recall we responded to all the totally unjustified criticism PHE and Test and Trace received last summer by announcing, on the 18th of August, the marriage of the two as the National Institute for Health Protection.” 

“Glad you reminded me, Humphrey. I remember thanking ‘all my brilliant colleagues at PHE’ and others and especially ‘Duncan Selbie for his leadership of PHE’,  Then I sacked him and put Dido Harding in charge.” 

“You did indeed Minister. The clever part was not to task NIHP with resolving the Covid problems until nine months later when the pandemic would be largely over anyway. It seemed a suitable period before they could be left holding the baby. Not everyone appreciated Lady Harding being put in charge but it was either that or Lady Harding becoming Chair of NHS England.  She was already in charge of NHS Test and Trace and Chair of NHS Improvement which was merging with NHS England, if you are still with me, and therefore lined up to be Chair of NHS England, knocking out Lord Prior.” 

“Who is Lord Prior?” 

“Many people would like to know that, Minister.” 

“Problems present themselves in different ways, Humphrey.  This month the blame merchants have been out in force again.  They claim we were unprepared for Covid. Do we have an answer?” 

“Yes, we have Minister and, if I may say so, its release has been a triumph.  Congratulations. NIHP is no more. On 24th March, we announced its replacement by the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) which will be led by Dr Jenny Harries. Our health will now not just be protected but be secure.”  

“I think I said it would be ‘built on the world-class public health expertise of Public Health England (PHE)’ and it ‘will play a leading role in our global response to external health threats.’ ‘It will work to understand ever better the needs of citizens, and to build that understanding into the design and continuous improvement of services.’ It will remove inequalities arising from pandemics by ensuring there won’t be any more pandemics.”  

“I think that may be going a little too far, Minister.” 

“Not at all. If it turns out to be rubbish, we can sack Dr Harries and give the quango a new name.”

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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