The term Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation (or QUANGO), attributed to Sir Douglas Hague, was originally invented as a joke, but fell into common usage in the United Kingdom to describe the agencies produced by the growing trend of government devolving power to appointed, or self-appointed bodies.
The UK government's definition of a quango is:
- "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."
These appointed bodies performed a large variety of tasks, for example health trusts, or the Welsh Development Agency, and by 1992 were responsible for some 25% of all governement expenditure in the UK.
Critics argued that the system was open to abuse as most quangos had their members directly appointed by government ministers without an election or consultation with the people. The press, critical of what was perceived as the Conservatives' complacency in power in the 1990s, presented many questionable government practices.
This concern led to the formation of a Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Nolan Committee) which first reported in 1995 and recommended the creation of a public appointments commissioner to make sure that apporpriate standards were met in the appointment of members of quangos. The government accepted the recommendation, and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments was established in Novemnber 1995.
The use of quangos has continued under the Labour government in office since 1997, but the political controversy associated with quangoes in the mid-1990s is now much reduced.
Organizations that have been described (rightly or wrongly) as QUANGOs or NDPBs:
- Advertising Standards Authority
- British Board of Film Classification
- English Heritage
- list more alleged QUANGOs here
- Definition of 'non-departmental public body' as synonymous with QUANGO
- UK Government list of NPDBs and other public bodies
- UK government site about the process of making public appointments
- The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments
- The Committee on Standards in Public Life
- Mark Thomas story on Quangos