Government must act on public inquiry recommendations

Government has spent £639m on public inquiries over the last 30 years and increasingly relies on them to examine major incidents and tragedies. But a new report finds that the process for following up on recommendations is inadequate.

Government must systematically set out how it will respond to inquiry recommendations, and Parliament must take the lead in holding government to account by requiring it to provide yearly progress updates to select committees.

Published today by the Institute for Government, How public inquiries can lead to changefinds that of the 68 public inquiries that have taken place since 1990, only six have been fully followed-up by select committees to see what government did as a result of the inquiry. 

Yet inquiries are being used now more than ever before: in the last decade at least six inquiries have been running at any one time. There are eight currently underway including the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Contaminated Blood Inquiry.

The report also finds that inquiries take too long to publish any findings, with one in seven taking five years or longer to release their final report.

Inquiries have delivered valuable changes in the past, from effective gun control after the Dunblane massacre to the creation of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch after the Ladbroke Grove and Southall rail crashes. But there are no formal checks or procedures in place to make sure all public inquiries bring about meaningful change. 

To ensure public inquiries can lead to real change, the report calls for: 

  • government to systematically explain how it is responding to inquiry recommendations
  • select committees to examine annual progress updates from government on the state of implementation
  • public inquiries to publish interim reports in the months, rather than years, after events
  • expert witnesses to be involved in developing the recommendations of inquiries.

Emma Norris, Programme Director at the Institute for Government and report author, said:

“Government has spent over half a billion pounds on inquiries since 1990 and uses them more and more. As we speak, there are eight separate inquiries running into some of the biggest tragedies this country has seen.

“But our report finds that the aftermath of inquiries are being neglected. The implementation of findings is patchy and there is no proper procedure for holding government to account for change. Government needs to systematically provide a full and detailed response to inquiry findings and select committees need to make the follow up to inquiry recommendations a core part of their work.” 

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The full report How public inquiries can lead to change can be found attached and here (from 00:01 Wednesday 13 December).
  2. The data in this report analyses the public inquiries that were active in the period 1990 to 2017.
  3. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  4. For more information, please contact rhys.williams@instituteforgovernment.org.uk / 07825 021 538.