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LAST 0UANGO AT THE HILTON; Doomed body spends pounds 50,000 on farewell bash.

Byline: LINDSAY McGARVIE EXCLUSIVE

A DOOMED quango is preparing to spend pounds 50,000 of hard-pressed NHS cash on a farewell bash at a top Scots hotel.

The Scottish Council for Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education will be abolished as part of a long-awaited "bonfire of the quangos".

Quango chiefs are determined to go out in style on April Fool's Day at the health service's expense.

Up to 350 members will be treated to an overnight stay at the luxury Hilton Dunblane Hydro.

The cost is pounds 140 per person - pounds 49,000 if all 350 of those invited attend.

Chief executive Graham Buckley denied it was a junket.

But last night fury mounted among politicians as one of the quango's workers said: "This has been billed as a conference, but you can be sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to let our hair down.

"You could say it will be a farewell party for the council."

Members will get the use of the Hilton's function rooms, two servings of tea and biscuits, lunch, dinner, and a full Scottish breakfast - all paid for from the public purse.

They will enjoy the the Hydro's recently-renovated health spa, swimming pool and health and fitness facilities.

Guests will be able to rub shoulders with the rich and famous at a hotel renowned for its luxury grounds and high-profile guests.

On April 1, the SCPMDE will be scrapped and merged with two other health bodies in an attempt to cut red tape and costs.

Confirming the gathering will be paid for by the NHS, Graham Buckley said: "The meeting will inform our staff about the new working arrangements. This is our way of demonstrating what the principle of the new board is all about.

"I completely refute any sugthis is in any way a junketing exercise."

He added that, so far, around 150 of the 350 staff have said they would take part in the overnight event.

Buckley said he had put aside a budget for the night, but refused to say how much, and said a final figure could not be made until numbers were confirmed.

He added: "These are standard charges that are competitively priced."

The SNP branded the overnight event "a scandalous waste of scant resources".

Shadow Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was shocked at the junket at a time when our hospitals were in desperate need of cash to deal with rising waiting lists, lack of beds and the current virus crisis.

She added: "It's an extravagant waste of taxpayers' money. These thousands of pounds could be spent on vital front-line services.

"The bonfire of the quangos was meant to be about cutting bureaucracy and waste.

"But here we have thousands being spent on an event that amounts to a party thrown by an organisation only weeks away from being broken up."

The SCPMDE is one of the most heavily funded quangos, with an annual budget of pounds 140 million.

Its role is to commission and support postgraduate training for around 4700 doctors, dentists and clinical psychologists.

But it will be scrapped, along with the National Board for Nursing and Health Visiting for Scotland and the Post- Qualification Board for Health Service Pharmacists in Scotland.

The functions of all three will be taken on by a new unified Special Health Board.

Former Finance Minister Angus MacKay announced last June that a third of all quangos were to be abolished and that a further 61 would come under scrutiny, with the possibility of further culls.

Quangos have long been accused of not being accountable enough to the people of Scotland and of being operated often on a "jobs for the boys" basis.

Two years ago, the SQA became the most infamous of all quangos, after thousands of pupils were left with wrong or no exam results.

Then Education Minister Jack McConnell put in Executive personnel to bring control of the quango closer to Ministers.
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 27, 2002
Words:654
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