Bonfire of the quangos

Vince Cable announces Con-Lib commitment to wielding the axe. Simon Baker reports

June 4, 2010

Higher education bodies could be in the firing line after Vince Cable announced plans to abolish, merge or reduce funding for almost half of the quangos in his department.

The business secretary said he was “committed” to reducing the number of such organisations, with 13 of the department’s quangos already facing action and another 20 earmarked for the chop or mergers in the next year.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fair Access were among the 74 quangos under the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ remit in 2009. BIS has not said whether either is in line to be axed.

In his first speech since taking office, Mr Cable said yesterday that he wanted a “genuine audit” of state spending in higher and further education and science and research, adding that the country had a “window for transformational change”.

He said: “I’m specifically committed to getting rid of some of the BIS quangos. We had 74 last year. Thirteen are now being got rid of, merged or having their funding cut. I aim to merge or abolish another 20 or so within a year – that’s a third of the rest.

“And we will keep scrutinising the others – if they fail to perform or the world has moved on, I will take action.”

Mr Cable, who was speaking at the Cass Business School in London, went on to stress that he wanted BIS to play a “central role” in putting higher and further education on a “sound footing”. He said his priority was to end the “outdated value distinction” between blue-collar apprenticeships and university study, but added that education and learning were “desirable in their own right”.

The business secretary also said that important decisions would be made on funding allocations in higher education over the coming months, including the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

“We have to make choices about allocating the training budget, or funding certain kinds of science or research, or promoting science, technology, maths or engineering degrees for higher education. We have to make some strategic choices. We can’t avoid that,” he said.

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