SQA 'passes quango test'

29th June 2001 at 01:00
THE Scottish Qualifications Authority remains confident it will not face closure despite being included in a Government list of quangos likely to be culled.

Angus MacKay, Finance and Local Government Minister, told the Scottish Parliament last week that 52 quangos would go with a further 61 singled out for "more fundamental scrutiny with an intent to abolish".

Among the second group are the SQA and Community Learning Scotland. A policy review of the exams body was announced last year as part of a package of measures to restore public confidence. This is a normal process to which Government-sponsored public organisations are subject every five years, although the SQA review was brought forward from 2002.

The Executive's statement acknowledged that the problems surrounding the exams "have given rise to the need to re-examine whether the present organisational arrangements strike the best balance between ministerial accountability for the education system and operational responsibility for the various functions of the SQA".

The statement also drew a distinction between ministers remaining accountable to the Parliament for the "execution" of a function and cases where they should be distanced from a function they cannot be held responsible for on a day-to-day basis. The SQA appears to fall into the latter category.

A spokesman for the authority told The TES Scotland: "We are under scrutiny - of that there is no doubt. But we don't believe we are part of this exercise. We are confident that the policy review, which is a normal quinquennial exercise, will lead to improvements but not to closure."

Referring implicitly to last year's events, Annabel Goldie, the Tory spokeswoman, asked whether, if any disaster emanated from a quango, ministers would take responsibility. Mr MacKay replied that there would be "no lessening of ministers' current responsibilities".

Charles McConnell, chief executive of Community Learning Scotland, welcomed the scrutiny of his organisation, adding: "Our track record out in the field is valued and recognised."

The CLS board is due to meet today (Friday) and a more formal response will be issued next week.

The Executive says simply that it plans to "review the status" of a body whose community and adult education role may require it to merge with other bodies in the light of the imminent initiative on adult literacy as well as the social inclusion agenda. Like many others affected by the quango cull, this could reflect abolition of the agency but not of the function.

The other main educational organisation to be affected is the Scottish Further Education Unit. The loss of its quango status has already been announced, and it became self-financing with effect from April 1.

The plans would leave 70 public bodies which would be "fitter and fairer", Mr MacKay says.

But despite the First Minister's promise to have "a bonfire of the quangos", Mr MacKay said that he was not a "pyromaniac" and added: "What matters is not the size or brightness of the flames but the quality of the fire and the warmth that it generates."

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