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Masthead Healthcare - Governance and Risk

Government spent £200m+ on inquiries but their impact is unclear: watchdog

The government has spent more than £200m on completed inquiries since 2005, but without it being obvious what if any action has resulted from their findings.

That criticism has come from spending watchdog the National Audit Office in a report Investigation Into Government-funded Inquiries.

It said it was unclear whether many of these exercises had had their intended impact.

Auditors ignored inquiries still in progress - such as that on Grenfell Tower - but looked at the £239m spent on the 26 concluded since 2005, which each took an average of 40 months to conclude.

“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 report noted.

No single department was responsible for running inquiries and no formal criteria existed to determine the type of inquiry to be held.

Since 2014, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice have committed to various actions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inquiries, but none of these commitments had been fulfilled.

The report said the two departments had, for example, failed to act on recommendations to share best practice from inquiries, or update and publish guidance for inquiry chairs and sponsor departments.

Auditors were also concerned to find no overall oversight across government for monitoring whether inquiries had achieved their objectives and seen their recommendations implemented.

Overall, legal staff costs were the largest item of expenditure, accounting for an average of 36% of an inquiry’s cost, although this varied from less than 1% for the Morecambe Bay investigation to 67% for the Mid Staffordshire hospital inquiry. Working from cases where information existed, the NAO found inquiry teams spent an average of 102 days hearing testimony from 200 witnesses and considered more than 52,000 documents.

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.”

The Cabinet Office has raised concerns about the NAO’s approach, which it felt sought to draw conclusions from too small a sample of inquiries.

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