An examination by the National Audit Office of inspectorates in the home affairs and justice sector has underlined the vital role played by inspection, providing departments, Parliament and the public with the means of scrutinizing performance and showing where it can be improved. The report also, however, identifies inconsistency in the extent to which inspectorates are independent of government and in their reporting arrangements, which can limit their impact.
Today’s report examined the five inspectorates within the sector: HM Inspectorate of Constabulary; HM Inspectorate of Prisons; HM Inspectorate of Probation; HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. The report also looks at the role of the three departments which sponsor these inspectorates: the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office. The spending watchdog has recommended that departments should clarify what the sponsor role should be in relation to inspectorates. The government is spending around £35 million on inspectorates in the sector during 2014-15.
The act of inspection has a direct impact on sector performance by inspected bodies who know the inspector would, or could, visit. The main way in which inspectorates have impact is through their published reports and recommendations for inspected bodies. Visibility about whether recommendations have been implemented, however, can be poor in the absence of follow-up work or a revisit by the inspector. For example, although HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate emphasizes follow-up work such as further inspections, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s follow-up is more limited.
Individual inspectorates’ reports can point to examples of good practice and strong impact that inspections have had. Nevertheless, the NAO found that inspectorates do not generally link findings and recommendations across their reports. The NAO encourages inspectorates to do more to exploit the body of knowledge created from their inspections by identifying and disseminating findings, recommendations and good practice examples which have had most impact.
Many of the types of skills applied to inspection work are common to the inspectorates. Each inspectorate develops training for its staff, and for joint inspections, and, in the case of HMI Prisons, with other partners, but inspectorates have not collaborated to develop training programmes for common skills. Greater sharing and learning could help establish good inspection practice and efficiencies, given the limited resources for inspection.
The independence of inspectorates can be perceived as being limited. Chief Inspectors act independently in carrying out inspections, but departments have control over the size of inspectorates’ budgets. In addition, although most inspectorates publish their own reports, since January 2014 the reports of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration have been published by the Home Secretary. Today’s report recommends that inspectorates and their sponsor departments should consider whether current arrangements are consistent and adequate, including whether they best meet the purposes they are publicly intended to serve.