Andrew Arbuckle: Hop on the tram and forget quangos

The tone of the email was one of frustration. How, the sender asked, was he to achieve his ambition of being selected to be on a government quango?

Give quango ambitions a miss and take a tram to the zoo instead, advises Andrew Arbuckle. Picture: Ian Rutherford

He had, the missive stated, been trying to get his name in the frame for some considerable time and he was beginning to lose heart.

The big blow had come at the Highland Show where no less than three quangos were announced and his name was not mentioned.

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For those who do not keep up with such matters, the politicians announced the setting-up of a Women in Agriculture Taskforce, then there was the National Council of Rural Advisers and to complete the trio, a Fruit & Vegetable Industry Leadership Group was set up.

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Ignore for a moment that amidst all the excitement and froth this brought about the minister forgot to mention that his Government had pleaded with Europe not to impose a multimillion-pound fine for failing to cough up farmers’ cash.

Also ignore that he was unable to give any – no, make that absolutely any – idea of what his Government wanted Scottish agriculture to be like in a post-Brexit world. The big news, in Government eyes, was about those quangos.

They were the latest batch in a conveyor belt of such groups which cynics believe is just a neat way the Government can claim to be dealing with an issue by parking it in the long grass.

Later that Highland Show day, this flurry of quangoism resulted in a bout of ribaldry which was kicked off by someone asking “whatever next?”

This brought a number of responses when it was pointed out there was as yet no panel, group or quango looking into “the effect on sheep dogs on sweary words being shouted at them”.

Because it was the Highland Show and emotions were still running high, there was a request to set up a quango on “improving judging;” that latter suggestion coming from one exhibitor who had led his prize bull out of the ring ticketless, all the while silently mouthing comments on the parentage of the judge.

Back to the sender of the email, who noted that everyone else now seemed to be in on the act. He had perused the latest list and noted some of the usual suspects on it. Keep your nose clean and you will be chosen, his email suggested.

Before going further, it should be noted that over the years I have received a fair amount of mail which, in another part of the paper, would have seen me classified as an agony aunt.

I should state I do not think there has been an agricultural expert on dealing with personal and business worries of those living and working in the country and I have no ambitions in that direction. However, letters and nowadays emails flow in with queries. There used to be loads about bad landlords from their much-put-upon tenants but, of late, that stream has diminished. Fewer tenants about. Must be buying their farms.

But now I get a query on quangoism that requires the civility of a reply. I began to compose my response to my email correspondent. I wondered why he had any such ambitions. The pay was none too good. Mostly it was just expenses and from personal experience, the Government tea, coffee and biscuits were not something to covet.

Admittedly he would get his name on the glossy document published after the group decided it had had sufficient meetings. The minister would then issue a press statement accepting the 63 recommendations, saying some of the more acceptable ones would be put into action soon. The majority would be considered later (time unspecified). The minister would then pat everyone on the head and that would be that.

It was only on re-reading the original request that I noted he said: “It would be fine to visit Edinburgh for a short meeting. I have not been there for some time and I would like to go on the new trams and possibly visit the zoo.”

I wrote: “Forget the quango notion. Come to Edinburgh. Ride on the tram. Check out the zoo.”