Quangos Scotland: What is a quango? What Scottish organisations can be called a quango?

The Scotsman has launched an investigative series into quangos – but just what are these quasi-autonomous organisations?

It is an abbreviation of the phrase, quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, that has come to be interpreted by many as a byword for bureaucracy, patronage and a lack of accountability. But what exactly is a quango?

It is a question that has sparked debate for the best part of half a century.

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One definition is a body with public functions that is funded by taxpayers, but not directly controlled by central government. The reality is there are many semi-autonomous bodies that share many of the functions and characteristics of quangos, without being, well, a quango.

For the purposes of The Scotsman’s series, we have scrutinised organisations that fall into ten categories.

The best known are executive non-departmental public bodies (NDPD), a grouping that takes in prominent organisations with major budgets, such as Creative Scotland, NatureScot and VisitScotland. But so too, there are advisory NDPDs, such as the Scottish Law Commission.

There are also executive agencies and non-ministerial offices, as well as public corporations.

The dozens of health bodies, including regional boards, form their own category, as does the ever-increasing numbers of commissioners and ombudsmen. Less well known are regional transport partnerships and tribunals.

The Scotsman is investigating quangos linked to the Scottish Government in a new seriesThe Scotsman is investigating quangos linked to the Scottish Government in a new series
The Scotsman is investigating quangos linked to the Scottish Government in a new series

Other public bodies which do not fall into any of the above categories include curiosities such as the Office of the King’s Printer for Scotland.

A lack of definitional consensus means there is no agreed number of quangos in Scotland, but The Scotsman’s analysis spans over 120 organisations.

Some may query our inclusion of ScotRail, or the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, for example.

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The former entity is included because it is ultimately owned by the Scottish Government and overseen by Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd, an NDPB. The latter makes the list because it is subject to the reporting requirements of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act (PSR), and receives financial support from the government, with ministers making appointments to its board.

Even then, there are caveats. Not every quango is subject to the provisions of the PSR legislation.

And while there are nearly 100 regulated public bodies, so too there are scores that are non-regulated. Such quirks make it harder to settle on what a quango is and, ultimately, consider how wisely they are using public money.



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