Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation
The term Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation (or QUANGO), attributed to Sir Douglas Hague, was originally invented as a joke, but fell into common usage in the United Kingdom to describe the agencies produced by the growing trend of government devolving power to appointed, or self-appointed bodies.
The UK government's definition of a QUANGO is:
- "A body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm's length from Ministers."
Since most of such bodies are in fact part of the government in terms of funding, appointment and function, the acronym does not work as a description - these are generally not non-governmental organisations with less autonomy than others. Quasi-autonomous non-ministerial governmental organisation would be better description.
The less controversial term non-departmental public body (NDPB) is now used to describe these organisations, in an attempt to avoid the pejorative associations of the term QUANGO.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of QUANGOs/NDPBs in the UK http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/agencies-publicbodies/publicbodies/pb2003.pdf (PDF). It is hard to determine how many because some are the responsibility of devolved government. Before 1997, the incoming Labour Government promised to reduce the number and power of QUANGOs. Some question whether this has happened as much as it could have. Mark Thomas story on Quangos (original version)
These appointed bodies performed a large variety of tasks, for example health trusts, or the Welsh Development Agency, and by 1992 were responsible for some 25% of all governement expenditure in the UK.
Critics argued that the system was open to abuse as most QUANGOs had their members directly appointed by government ministers without an election or consultation with the people. The press, critical of what was perceived as the Conservatives' complacency in power in the 1990s, presented much material interpreted as evidence of questionable government practices.
This concern led to the formation of a Committee on Standards in Public Lifehttp://www.public-standards.gov.uk/ (the Nolan Committee) which first reported in 1995 and recommended the creation of a public appointments commissioner to make sure that appropriate standards were met in the appointment of members of QUANGOs. The Government accepted the recommendation, and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments http://www.ocpa.gov.uk/ was established in November 1995.
The use of QUANGOs has continued under the Labour government in office since 1997, but the political controversy associated with QUANGOs in the mid-1990s is now much reduced. Why it is so reduced is not entirely clear, though proponents of the Labour Government say that it is because of their reforms.
Some other bodies are self-regulatory such as the Press Council, the Law Society or the Takeover Panel: they may operate under a voluntary code of conduct or may have statutory functions. These are not NDPBs since they are outside the public sector, though they may be seen by some as QUANGOs.
Organizations that have been described (rightly or wrongly) as QUANGOs or NDPBs:
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