Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost — the first of 600,000 in the public sector — as hundreds of quangos are scrapped, merged or fundamentally reformed in the largest shake-up of power in Whitehall for a generation.
A total of 192 quangos will be abolished and 118 bodies merged. Overall the number of quangos will be cut from 901 to 648.
Within minutes of the cuts being announced by the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, its website had crashed under the scale of hits from worried civil servants.
But last night ministers were unable to put a figure on how much money will be saved — if any, in the short term — or specify the exact number of jobs that will be lost. The Government currently spends around £38bn a year on non-departmental bodies, which employ a total of 325,000 staff.
Privately, ministers say that some of the changes may initially cost more than they save in redundancies, relocation costs and other liabilities. Other quangos may prove harder to close or reform than expected, and there could yet be changes to the programme.
“People are looking at this as the end of the process but in fact it is really just the beginning,” said one official.
Privately, officials admitted that some quangos might not be abolished for years as the cost would far outweigh that of keeping them.