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A quango or QUANGO (less often QuANGO or QANGO) is a quasi non-governmental organisation. It is typically an organisation to which a government has devolved power, but which is still partly controlled and/or financed by government bodies. As its name suggests, a quango is a hybrid form of organization, with elements of both non-government organizations (NGOs) and public sector bodies. The concept is most often applied in the United Kingdom and, to a lesser degree, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United States, and other English-speaking countries.

In the UK, the term quango covers different "arm's-length" government bodies, including "non-departmental public bodies" (NDPBs), non-ministerial government departments, and executive agencies.[1] One UK example is the Forestry Commission, which is a non-ministerial government department responsible for forestry in England. The term has spawned the derivative quangocrat; the Taxpayers' Alliance faulted a majority of them for not making declarations of political activity.[2] The acronym has been extended to cover government agencies of all kinds, often being spelt out as quasi-autonomous national government organization and sometimes modified to qango.



In 2006, there were 832 quangos in Ireland - 482 at national and 350 at local level - with a total of 5,784 individual appointees and a combined annual budget of €13 billion.[3]

The Irish majority party, Fine Gael, had promised to eliminate 145 quangos should they be the governing party in the 2016 election. Since coming to power they have reduced the overall number of quangos by 17. This reduction also included agencies which the former government had already planned to remove.

United Kingdom[edit]

Despite a 'commitment' from the 1979 Conservative party to curb the growth of unelected bodies, their numbers grew rapidly through their time in power throughout the 80s.[4]

The Cabinet Office 2009 report on non-departmental public bodies found that there are 766 NDPBs sponsored by the UK government. The number has been falling: There was 827 in 2007 and 790 in 2008. The number of NDPBs has fallen by over 10% since 1997. Staffing and expenditure of NDPBs have increased. They employed 111,000 people in 2009 and spent £46.5 billion, of which £38.4 billion was directly funded by the Government.[5]

Since the coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was formed in May 2010, numerous NDPBs have been abolished under Conservative plans to reduce the overall budget deficit by reducing the size of the public sector. As of the end of July 2010, the government had abolished at least 80 NDPBs and warned many others that they faced mergers or deep cuts.[6] In September 2010, The Telegraph published a leaked Cabinet Office list suggesting that a further 94 could be abolished, while four would be privatised and 129 merged.[7] In August 2012, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government was on course to abolish 204 public bodies by 2015, and said this would create a net saving of at least £2.6 billion.[8]

United States[edit]

Use of the term quango is less common and therefore more controversial in the United States due to their commitment to limited government and electoral accountability.[9] However, Paul Krugman has stated that the US Federal Reserve is, effectively, "what the British call a quango... Its complex structure divides power between the federal government and the private banks that are its members, and in effect gives substantial autonomy to a governing board of long-term appointees."[10]

Two other U.S.-based organizations that might be described as quangos are the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).


The term "quasi non-governmental organisation" was created in 1967 by Alan Pifer of the US-based Carnegie Foundation, in an essay on the independence and accountability of public-funded bodies that are incorporated in the private sector. This essay got the attention of David Howell, a Conservative M.P. in Britain, who then organized an Anglo-American project with Pifer, to examine the pros and cons of such enterprises. The lengthy term was shortened to the acronym QUANGO (later lowercased quango) by a British participant to the joint project, Anthony Barker, during one of the conferences on the subject.[11]

It describes an ostensibly non-governmental organisation performing governmental functions, often in receipt of funding or other support from government,[12] while mainstream NGOs mostly get their donations or funds from the public and other organisations that support their cause. Numerous quangos were created from the 1980s onwards. Examples in the United Kingdom include those engaged in the regulation of various commercial and service sectors, such as the Water Services Regulation Authority.

An essential feature of a quango in the original definition was that it should not be a formal part of the state structure. The term was then extended to apply to a range of organisations, such as executive agencies providing (from 1988) health, education and other services. Particularly in the UK, this occurred in a polemical atmosphere in which it was alleged that proliferation of such bodies was undesirable and should be reversed. In this context, the original acronym was often replaced by a backronym spelt out as "quasi-autonomous national government organisation, and often rendered as 'qango'[13] This spawned the related acronym qualgo, a 'quasi-autonomous local government organisation'.[14] "London Waste Regulation Authority, the first 'qualgo' formed after abolition of the Greater London Council...The new body is a joint board of councilors from London boroughs. 'Qualgo' stands for 'quasi-autonomous local government organization', the municipal equivalent of a quango, in which members are appointed by other councilors".

The less contentious term non-departmental public body (NDPB) is often employed to identify numerous organisations with devolved governmental responsibilities. The UK government's definition in 1997 of a non-departmental public body or quango was:

A body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm's length from Ministers.[15]


The Times has accused quangos of bureaucratic waste and excess.[16] In 2005, Dan Lewis, author of The Essential Guide to Quangos, claimed that the UK had 529 quangos, many of which were useless and duplicated the work of others.

Quangos are filled with appointed members. This means, unlike governmental bodies, members of quangos do not need to seek re-election. This is seen as a major criticism in liberal democracy as members of quangos have not been legitimised by the electorate, but have governmental power and influence. They also do not have the same level of accountability as elected officials, worsened by the lack of media coverage of their work.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Departments, agencies & public bodies - Inside Government". Gov.UK. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  2. ^ "Taxpayers' Alliance hits out at "quangocrat gravy train"". CityAM. Limited. 6 June 2016.
  3. ^ According to a survey carried out by the think tank Tasc in 2006. "Focus: What's wrong with quangos?" — The Sunday Times newspaper article, 29 October 2006
  4. ^ Watts, Duncan (2003). Understanding US/UK Government and Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 164.
  5. ^ Oonagh, Gay. "Quangos". House of Commons Library Research. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  6. ^ "One by one, the quangos are abolished. But at what cost?", N Morris, The Independent, 2010-07-27, accessed 2010-08-15.
  7. ^ Porter, Andrew (24 September 2010). "Quango cuts: 177 bodies to be scrapped under coalition plans". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  8. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (22 August 2012). "100 quangos abolished in cost-cutting bonfire". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  9. ^ Watts, Duncan (2003). Understanding US/UK Government and Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 321.
  10. ^ Paul R. Krugman, 1997, The Age of Diminished Expectations: U.S. Economic Policy in the 1990s, MIT Press, p. 99.
  11. ^ Letter: On Quasi-Public Organizations; Whence Came the Quango, and Why – New York Times Opinion page by Alan Pifer
  12. ^ Wettenhall, R 1981 'The quango phenomenon', Current Affairs Bulletin 57(10):14–22.]
  13. ^ "You've Been Quangoed!" by Roland Watson
  14. ^ "New body's waste plea", The Times, 18 April 1986: Gale Document Number:CJ117886677. Retrieved 5 Apr 2008.
  15. ^ "Public Bodies 1997, "Introduction"". Archived from the original on 9 December 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2006.
  16. ^ Waste mounts as £100 billion web of quangos duplicates work

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