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Over £200m spent on inquiries with little evidence of learning, NAO reveals

The government is not able to provide evidence that it consistently monitors and scrutinises the cost and progress of inquiries, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

According to an investigation carried out by the NAO, the government has spent at least £239m on the 26 inquiries completed since 2005, with an average duration of 40 months.

Of eight of the inquiries examined by the NAO that made recommendations, readily accessible information on progress was available for just half of these.

The costs for the 10 inquiries examined by the NAO ranged from £0.2m to £24.9m and the nature of expenditure varied significantly, with legal costs making up an average of 36% of an inquiry’s cost – although for the Morcambe Bay Investigation this was less than 1%, and as much as 67% for the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry.

The length of the 10 inquiries also varied in length, ranging from 16 months to a whopping 84 months for the Iraq Inquiry.

However, the damning report said that it is not always clear to taxpayers what action has been taken in response to recommendations and whether inquiries have had the intended impact, and no single department is responsible for running inquiries across government and there are no formal criteria to determine the type of inquiry.

The NAO found that since 2014, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice have committed to various actions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inquiries originating from two parliamentary select committee reports, but none of these commitments have been fulfilled.

For example, recommendations to share best practice from inquiries, or update and publish guidance for inquiry chair and sponsor departments have not been acted on.

There is no overall oversight across the government for tracking whether inquiries have achieved their intended impact and whether recommendations have been implemented, and the report claims that departments vary in their transparency about actions taken in response to recommendations.

A cabinet spokesperson said: “Inquiries are only called to investigate events of significant public concern and play an important role in giving victims closure, establishing where mistakes have been made and ensuring those responsible are held to account.”

They explained that while each inquiry is unique in sir and length, lessons are learnt from every inquiry and that measures are always put in place to ensure that it represents value for money.

Top image: tadamichi


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