I got one of those phone calls from a PR agency, asking a series of questions on how I (as a 'stakeholder', whatever that is) view their client. Often these calls aim partly to give us 'stakeholders' a subliminal message ('how aware are you that XYZ Corp helps old folk/ loves cats/befriends orphans/sponsors charities/improves nutrition...sort of thing). But for the most part, they are just trying to find out what 'opinion leaders' actually think of them.
Well, in this case the client was the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), and my answer to that question was 'not much'. I was appalled when I got this quango's first report – a real door-stopper of a publication, complete with its own DVD, and hand delivered no doubt to all of the Westminster think-tanks as well as MPs, journos and who knows who else. It must have cost a fortune. And last year they produced another 49 separate publications, a few of them on the same sort of scale.
Mind you, the rural affairs department DEFRA gives them £6.7m of our money, so they're not pinching pennies, and with a staff of 80 they have plenty of people. Their motto is 'tackling rural disadvantage', and they see themselves (so their PR person said) as a 'voice for rural people and buisnesses', an 'expert adviser to government and others' and yet, paradoxically, 'an independent watchdog'.
Independent my bahookie. This is a quango set up by Blair & Co in 2005 after they had been shocked by the scale of the Countryside Alliance marchea on London in response to the proposed foxhunting ban, particularly the enormous 2002 rally. The 407,791 protestors – the largest civil-rights march in UK history – argued that Blair's effete metropolitan government didn't have the faintest understanding of countryside issues. The CRC was the government's attempt to show its concern – at our expense. Naturally, like all quangos, it has grown in budget, personnel, and remit. Unelected, it pushes its own agenda on rural communities, while claiming to understand and empathise with them.
The CRC should be closed down. Saturday 10 July would be a good day to send out the redundancy notices, the anniversary of the first (120,000- strong) Countryside Alliance march in 1997. It wouldn't just be taxpayers who rejoiced.
See Dr Butler's new Alternative Manifesto here.