Back in March I wrote that John Swinney had won the power to carry out further pruning of quangos without the need for primary legislation. As yet I haven't heard of any being dissolved although a few have amalgamated; reducing the number but not necessarily the cost.
John Swinney called for 'maximum value for taxpayers' money' yet public sector bodies are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on becoming members of institutes, societies and networking organisations.
The second largest 'clubber' is Scottish Enterprise which as spent £869,062 on joining organisations since 2007. Its senior managers spent £81,049 to join the Corporate Leadership Council, £69,443 to CBI Scotland and £1750 to the free-market David Hume Institute. Another £107,000 was found for the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and £3870 spent joining the Nuclear Industry Association in the last two years, despite the Scottish government's anti-nuclear stance.
SEPA sent £646 on a corporate membership for its chief executive at 29 - a private members' club in Glasgow. "Although SEPA no longer pays for a corporate membership of 29, its use provides a venue in the heart of the city of Glasgow where we can meet to discuss things such as environmental priorities and opportunities from the green economy," said a spokesperson. SEPA has offices in East Kilbride, Glasgow, Balloch and Ayr. Surely they could accommodate those who want to have meetings in the west.
The largest 'clubber' is Scottish Water. Our very own utility spent around £1 million in three years on corporate memberships. These included £15,321 to the Freight Transport Association, £6969 to Oxera Water, £33,097 to WRAS Ltd (why that is needed baffles me), £24,000 went in fees to SCDI, £30,000 to the Institute of Customer Service and £1250 to Scottish Business in the Community.
The total cost of Scottish Natural Heritage's membership of 90 organisations is not declared. Grampian Fire and Rescue paid £4500 to join gay rights group Stonewall.
Derek Brownlee, Scottish Tories’ finance spokesman, said: “There is no case for spending money on joining a private members’ club. Unless an organisation directly relates to the functions of a public body, I don’t think corporate memberships are a good idea.”
I'd go even further and say no quango or public organisation should be spending taxpayers' money on corporate or private memberships. If advice is required formally request a quotation and pay the bill. Let's put an end to these old-boys networks.