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Bonfire spares the workplace

Stephen Overell

15 October 2010

Unlike health and consumer protection, the workplace quangos appear to have escaped quite lightly from Francis Maude’s pyre – so far, anyway.

Philosophical liberals in all parties, and especially those with a budget deficit to chop, may be instinctively sniffy about entities called things like the Office of Manpower Economics and Central Arbitration Committee. But the Coalition has judged they serve a purpose.

Two big institutional legacies of the 1970s workplace – Acas and the Health and Safety Executive – survive. However, Acas will fear for its budget and the Health and Safety Executive is braced for some wing-clipping from Lord Young’s pending review of it.

And here is an awkward marriage: Margaret Thatcher’s Certification Office, a body that obliges trade unions to submit annual information about membership and activity and was always identified by them with the anti union laws, will merge with the Tony Blair backed Central Arbitration Committee, overseeing union recognition ballots and the information and consultation law. The Coalition stopped short of merging this merged beast with a further merger with Acas: baby steps, presumably.

Symptomatic of how difficult it will be to reform public sector pay, the Office of Manpower Economics earns a reprieve. It advises many public sector pay review boards and bodies. So too does the Low Pay Commission. The minimum wage has earned its place as part of the institutional furniture and no party really wants to unpick it (though Ed Milliband favours a “living wage”).

The Migration Advisory Committee, only just fully phased in, will also live on. The points-based, skills-based system for immigration it concerns itself with at least takes some of the heat out of immigration.

When lists of quangos appear it is tempting to think they represent the accumulated bureaucratic lunacies of under-pressure politicians down the years and that it is the duty of any red meat eating politician to wield the axe with vigour. The Coalition thankfully does not feel this way. It is treading softly. Conservatively, even.

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