Wake Me Up Before You Quango

If the Tories win the 2010 election they will scrap quangos – but to what end?

These groups are deeply unpopular but several have helped create the right climate, and literally prepare the ground, for tens of thousands of brand new private homes.

In December I visited Corby in the east Midlands and saw the work of the North Northants Development Company, a quango charged with bringing resi development – and a lot more – to the Corby, Wellingborough and Kettering patch

There were a few examples of why quangos annoy the Tories. Staff members lapsed into “growth strategy” jargon but much worse was the quango Alphabetti Spaghetti on the site boards. In addition to the NNDC there was the HCA and the DCLG, regional bodies (more initials) and the county and district councils too (more again). The PR execs guiding these bodies should be shot – do they not know how bad this looks?

But the proof of the pudding is in the development, and Corby – which I was visiting for a Financial Times story – was looking smart and lively, thanks to quangos. There was a new railway station, civic quarter, a decent mid-size shopping centre (with more to come when Land Securities declares the recession over), a large swimming pool, new theatre and housing schemes at various stages of construction.

A decade ago, none of that existed and the town was a development no-go area.

Don’t take my word for it. Read this from John Tutte, group managing director of Redrow on his firm’s verdict on the Corby quangos:

“The significant government investment that has taken place over the last decade has made Corby attractive to new, expanding and relocating businesses. The town is commutable to London particularly since the opening of the new station. Prices are relatively low and offer excellent value for money, particularly for those buying family housing on a tight budget. Redrow was attracted by the potential for the town and the prospects for selling price growth. Our decision [to invest] was not directly influenced by public bodies….but it has to be recognised they have significantly improved the town and done an excellent job in widely promoting Corby as a place to live and work.”

The Conservatives are poised to win Corby and Britain too. They may, of course, make a private-led approach work (after all, Labour failed miserably to get close to its own housing targets by using public-led techniques) but I cannot see how the equivalent of Corby-style transformations would happen in a Cameron administration.

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