Executive Briefing: Culling the Quangos: When is Delegation Revoked?


  • ‘Quangos’ are agencies at arm’s length from government and with delegated powers. Two common types of quango in the UK are:
  1. non-ministerial departments, for example, the Office of Fair Trading and the Food Standards Agency; and
  2. non-departmental public bodies, for example, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
  • Three advantages of quangos are:
  1. to make a clear commitment to regulating in a particular way, thereby allowing investment decisions to be made efficiently;
  2. to guarantee probity ; and
  3. to guarantee expertise.
  • These advantages might not be realised if delegation to arm’s length agencies can be easily revoked.


The authors investigate the lifespan and risk of termination of 790 arm’s length agencies in the United Kingdom over the 23-year period 1985-2008.


Both the function and the structure of the agency affect its likelihood of survival:

  • Agencies which have a regulatory function (particularly an economic regulation function), and those designed to ensure probity of decision-making, are less likely to be terminated in any given year.
  • Agencies structured as executive non-departmental bodies and non-ministerial departments are also longer-lived than others.

Political change does not seem to matter, but the policy position of a current government is associated with the risk of termination. Agencies operating under right-wing governments and under heavily indebted governments are more likely to be terminated, although left-wing governments are more sensitive to the effects of debt.


The full working paper (12-12) and more information about CCP and its research is available from our website: http://competitionpolicy.ac.uk


Stephen Greasley, a former member of CCP, is Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Exeter. Chris Hanretty, is Lecturer in Politics at UEA and a CCP faculty member.

About CCP
The Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) conducts interdisciplinary research into competition policy and regulation.

One Response to Executive Briefing: Culling the Quangos: When is Delegation Revoked?

  1. Pingback: Labour’s proposal to abolish Ofgem: if you don’t like the answer, change the regulator? | Competition Policy blog

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