Government spends at least £239m on inquiries since 2005

23 May 18

The government has spent at least £239m on 26 inquiries since 2005 but does not monitor their effectiveness, the official public spending watchdog has revealed today.

The National Audit Office has singled out the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice for failing to act on recommendations in two parliamentary select committee reports to improve the way inquiries are done.

“Departments were not able to provide the NAO with evidence that they had consistently monitored and scrutinised the cost and progress of the inquiries they have sponsored,” the watchdog noted.

It added: “There is no organisation across government or Parliament with responsibility for monitoring and tracking whether recommendations have been implemented and ensuring that inquiries have the intended impact.”

The government has previously rejected a House of Lords select committee call it sets up a central inquiries unit, the NAO highlighted.

Transparency on action taken following inquiry recommendations varied between departments, the report also said.

By examining 10 of the 26 inquiries inquiries in detail the watchdog found the amount spent on inquiries ranged from £0.2m to £24.9m.

The largest expense was the cost of employing legal staff, which accounted for an average of 36% of the costs.

There is no legal requirement for inquiries to be set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, the report noted. 

Ministers set the terms of reference for inquiries and only need to discuss these with the inquiry chair.  

Inquiries also varied in length of duration, ranging from 16 months to 84 months - the longest being the Iraq Inquiry, which concluded in 2011 but did not report its findings until 2016.

The NAO only analysed inquiries that have been completed, but noted that there are currently 11 ongoing inquiries, including the Grenfell Tower inquiry and the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry.

The Grenfell Tower fire public inquiry started on Monday, hearing evidence from the surviving victims of the blaze, in which 71 people lost their lives. 

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’Alliance, said that while some inquiries were useful but it was “unclear the extent to which the government adheres to their various recommendations”.

“As the government is under no obligation to publish reasons behind their decisions to accept or reject individual recommendations, taxpayers are left unsure as the whether their money was well-spent.”

A government 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.

“Lessons are learnt from every inquiry, and while each one is unique in its size and length depending on the complexity of the investigation, measures are always put in place to ensure it represents value for money.”

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