Why advisers are not in a quango

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Labour may espouse the ideals of open government, but mystery still surrounds the workings of its numerous and influential task forces. The TES publishes the first comprehensive list of those chosen to serve behind closed doors

The proliferation of task forces, working groups and quangos has led to some confusion about the division of labour within the education system at the highest level.

According to the Department for Education and Employment, a quango is a permanent organisation, technically independent of the Government but with a remit laid down by ministers, and a budget.

A task force, however, works to a timescale in an advisory capacity within terms of reference laid down by the department. Some task forces will have working groups examining related issues more closely.

Members of Labour's task forces have spoken of a lack of central planning, but said they had an open agenda which made it possible to speak candidly within the group while maintaining a level of secrecy from the outside world.

They also believe their groups are more accountable than quangos because issues are discussed, rather than simply "sending around documents or papers which are presented as a fait accompli".

One member said: "Task forces involve discussions with civil servants so that they in turn can discuss matters with ministers making them better informed and more likely to get things through."

Another said: "We are not expected to agree with everything that is being said and if I disagreed with something I would certainly say so. I would not have any reservations about starting a debate."

Some members are more cynical about the Government's intentions.

"When the Conservatives were in government they set up lots of consultative groups, but they didn't call them task forces and did not shout about their existence," said one sceptic.

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