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Bonfire of the Community Relations Quangos?

Mark Devenport | 16:47 UK time, Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson is not impressed by some of the carping she has heard from community relations types about the latest Stormont CSI strategy. She wonders "how much of that is genuine or how much of it is about protecting their own positions and funding. There are a raft of good relations quangos out there which, quite frankly, are unelected, unnecessary and ineffective. Sectarianism and intolerance are still rife in our society so I have to ask just what exactly have these organisations delivered?"

Ms Anderson goes on to warn the quangos their days might be numbered, pointing out that "in the 2008-09 financial year, a staggering £9.7 billion was spent on unelected quangos in the North. That's around 75% of the total budget being spent on largely unaccountable organisations and clearly that cannot and should not be sustained. Sinn Féin is committed to reducing this kind of waste and to cutting the number of quangos. In the context of an agreed Executive CSI strategy, many of these good relations quangos could be redundant and should be abolished."

£9.7 billion? Well that is truly staggering - as the Foyle MLA suggests, three quarters of the entire Stormont budget. So staggered was I that I decided to go trawling for the source of this figure and came across this Sunday Mirror article reproduced on the Taxpayers Alliance website.

It reminded me that back in April when I first heard about this report on a Radio Ulster newspaper review I smelled a rat. What triggered my suspicion was not just the headline but a detail in the report which stated that "the Health and Social Care Trusts had the highest overall cost of around £3.3 billion".

So the Health and Social Care Trusts are unelected quangos? Well up to a point, Lord Copper. But they are also the health service here, the people who run our hospitals and clinics. If you phrase it differently and ask people whether they want £3.3 billion spent on elected politicians or unelected doctors and nurses, you might be able to guess which side most taxpayers would come down on.

To be fair to Martina Anderson she's not the only politician to take this report at face value. In the original Sunday Mirror article, the Alliance's Kieran McCarthy (who probably takes a different view of community relations quangos) is quoted as being "totally gobsmacked. I knew the cost was considerable but almost 10 billion for quangos in a wee place like Northern Ireland is a major scandal."

Sinn Fein don't spell out which quangos they want to chop but if you are looking at the shared future business you would have to think the NI Community Relations Council would be high on the list. So I decided to check out their budget. According to the CRC's statement of accounts for 2008/9 they had a turnover of just over £8 million, spending £20,000 more than they received. I'm told two thirds of this money was devoted to Victims and Survivors, leaving £3.25 million for community relations.

£3.25 million. That's about £2 per head of the population here, and compares with an estimated £2 million spent on combatting one night of rioting earlier this month. True, the Community Relations Council did have a role in distributing a further £14 million. However this wasn't Executive cash, but funding from outside sources like Europe and the IFI.

Whichever way you look at it the CRC budget is a long way short from that rather inflated £9 billion plus figure for quangos, which includes our quasi-autonomous non-governmental hospitals.

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