Call for action as quango fails to hit its targets

Call for action as quango fails to hit its targets
The Herald Scotland, by Gerry Braiden
16.07.13

THE failure of a regeneration agency to remotely approach any of its targets on jobs and investments despite the millions poured into it highlights the need to bring quangos into the fold of Government, a think tank has warned.

Reform Scotland said the arm’s-length status of Riverside Inverclyde, which met only 7% of its job target of 2600 in seven years, meant it lacked accountability for the £60 million of public cash it has spent to date.

Meanwhile, the umbrella body for Scotland’s voluntary sector said Riverside Inverclyde’s charitable status represented "a serious threat to the reputation of charities and reflected badly on genuine third sector organisations".

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations compared the body to the Glasgow East Regeneration Agency, whose chief executive walked away with a near £500,000 pay-off this year.

A leading member of Riverside Inverclyde’s board, Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe, said the report was "a fair, balanced and honest assessment of progress made to date".

However, he added: "Scottish Government ministers would not have provided Riverside Inverclyde with tens of millions of pounds of public money if they had not been satisfied it was doing a reasonably good job in an extremely difficult economic climate.

"The chairman and chief executive have met regularly with ministers and civil servants. Riverside Inverclyde’s business plans and funding bids have been closely scrutinised and subject to ministerial approval."

It was revealed yesterday that a mid-term review found the cost per job created by the arms-length agency has been £321,000.

Since 2006, it has built just 5% of the 2285 new homes promised, while also securing 1% of the private sector investment it said would be levered from the £60m it received from the public purse.

Land bought at James Watt Docks in Greenock for millions is so contaminated it means the site has little or negative value.

Two leading officials, chief executive Bill Nicol and implementation manager Garry Williamson, have left or are due to leave.

Alison Payne, research director of Reform Scotland, said: "If bodies like Riverside Inverclyde were inside government, then politicians and ministers could be held properly accountable for the decisions they took and the outcomes they achieved.

Similarly, a fully autonomous body could be scrutinised for the contracts it signs in return for taxpayers money.

"Too many quangos are spending significant sums without proper public accountability."

Felix Spittal, SCVO policy officer, said: "Millions have been wasted on this pseudo-charity when genuine charities like Inverclyde Community Development Trust are delivering the type of … regeneration accepted as the key to success."

SNP MSP for West of Scotland Stuart McMillan said that while Labour complained about SNP Government funding "now we see its mismanagement has resulted in these disappointing figures". However, Mr McCabe called for parties to work together.

The Scottish Government said the review was a matter for Riverside Inverclyde’s board.