Tom Richmond: An out-of-control quangocracy that rewards political failures

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IT would be disingenuous to assert that Britain’s quangos are controlled by Labour – Chris Smith, the dismal Environment Agency chairman, was re-appointed by the Tories to his reported £100,000 a year role while Sally Morgan, Tony Blair’s former right-hand woman, was picked by this Government three years ago to head Ofsted before being dismissed by an indignant Michael Gove.

I’m afraid Britain’s out-of-control quangocracy is littered with underwhelming politicians, civil servants, cronies and others who have been rewarded with lucrative jobs in public life which bear little correlation with their area of expertise. How did Lord Smith of Camden – Culture Secretary in Blair’s first government – ever qualify for such an important position when his first love will always be the arts?

Ditto Baroness Morgan of Huyton. How did her loyal service as Blair’s gatekeeper in Downing Street qualify her to become chairman of Ofsted? Are you seriously telling me that there was no academic or teacher who was better suited to overseeing the inspection of Britain’s schools as part of this coalition’s determined effort to drive up standards and end the damaging culture of mediocrity that has failed too many children?

Three points need to be made. First, given the importance of the work of bodies like the Environment Agency and Ofsted, a better way must be found to appoint the most able candidate rather than the latest political has-been who needs appeasing. As Prince Charles told flooding victims on the Somerset Levels: “The tragedy is nothing happened for so long.” By just reaching stranded hamlets, he showed up Smith for what the Labour man is – a complete nonentity who was not even wanted at Wednesday night’s emergency meeting of Cobra which was chaired by David Cameron.

Second, it needs to be made clear that these are full-time roles. Smith is paid a reputed £100,000 a year for a three-day week at the Environment Agency. Yet he also has at least nine other roles in public life, commitments that probably prevented in from visiting the flood-hit Somerset Levels to see how his organisation’s ambivalence towards dredging – the fate of newts is evidently more important than farmers – has exacerbated this crisis.

Third, why are peers like Smith and Morgan not being held accountable for their actions in Parliament? If a committee of the House of Lords can summon George Osborne and question the Chancellor over energy policy, including fracking, why are peers so reluctant to make the head of the Environment Agency explain why it has done so little to help stricken communities – or whether Baroness Morgan thinks she is a victim of a political witch-hunt orchestrated by Gove?

I’ll tell you why. The House of Lords is too busy looking after its own rather than representing the public interest. And, until the appointments process, both for quangos and the Upper House is transformed, Britain will continue to be mis-served by those cronies who are rewarded for failure with lucrative jobs – and other perks – to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Perhaps this reform can begin with the selection of Lord Smith’s successor later this year.

IT’S not just quangos that are totally undemocratic. My money is now on de-selected Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh being joined in the House of Lords after the next election by her Tory colleague Tim Yeo who has just been given the heave-ho by his constituency party in Suffolk because he was judged to be a poor constituency MP.

If peerages are handed out in these instances, it will only serve to the strengthen the case for House of Lords members to be democratically-elected.

IT looks like Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill, a junior Transport Minister, is on a collision course with his constituency neighbour Sir Greg Knight and his fellow Tory’s dismay at plans to lower the M1 speed limit in South Yorkshire.

In a ‘dig’ at the Government’s high-speed rail plan, Sir Greg – who represents East Yorkshire – stood up in this Commons and asked this question: “We already have the lowest road speed limits in Europe, and only eight per cent of travellers choose to travel by rail, so will the Government announce a new initiative – HSM1?”

The response of Commons leader Andrew Lansley? To ask Goodwill to reply in writing to the disgruntled backbencher.

WHY did the profligate BBC have to get its political editor Nick Robinson and education editor Reeta Chakrabarti to pontificate at length about the ramifications of Michael Gove’s keynote speech on school standards?

Both gave live interviews on the 6pm and 10pm news because the BBC did not know how to report a very straight-forward story – nothing is off limits as Gove looks to raise standards at every school in the land.

POLITICAL posturer of the week? That has to be David Cameron for taking credit for longer pub opening hours on the night of England’s opening World Cup match against Italy. Yet, while the Prime Minister’s intervention was clearly motivated by the looming election, didn’t anyone at the Home Office think this through in the first place? Talk about not being able to organise the proverbial p***-up in a brewery – especially as Cameron’s cheer was followed by confirmation that a ban on cheap alcohol purchases from supermarkets will be in force before the start of the World Cup.

IF you want to know about the positive role parents can play when it comes to the aspirations of their children, look at the example of Luther Burrell when he lines up this afternoon for England’s Six Nations clash against Scotland.

When the 15-year-old Huddersfield RFC player was overlooked for a place at the Leeds elite player development scheme, his mother Joyce fired off an indignant email to the club and which was then passed to the then coach Stuart Lancaster, who is now the mastermind behind the England team.

“My mother said, ‘I’m not having this’, and fired an email across to the secretary at Leeds,” recalled Burrell. “It got to Stuart, he invited me to a trial. I had the trial a couple of weeks later and I haven’t looked back since. I owe a lot to my parents for driving me around, up and down the country.”

Fair play to the Burrell family for highlighting the key role that parents play in helping their children broaden their sporting and cultural horizons. The shame is that so many naturally-gifted youngsters still do not receive the support that their natural talent deserves.

A FINAL thought. If David Beckham is so committed to England, a country that has stood by the footballer and his publicity machine through good times and bad, why is he putting his money into a soccer side in America rather than trying to help the national game here in Blighty?