Official reports: Like waiting for a bus

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir John Chilcot began his work in 2009

What is it about official inquiries?

In some respects it's a little like waiting for a bus. No matter what it says on the timetable, you know it's going to be a long wait and the only real question is how late will the bus be.

And so it is with the Chilcot Report, which critics say is really making monkeys of us all, the political equivalent of a late bus with the queue at the bus stop getting longer and ever more irascible.

Politicians love setting up inquiries, say the cynics, as a way out of a tight spot, usually a response to some political or media frenzy.

The inquiries are set up in a hurry - sometimes the terms of reference can seem like an afterthought, leading to problems down the line.

The web page of the National Archives tells you all you need to know about the various investigations launched over the years. That's if you have either the time or inclination.

What is much harder to determine is which investigations were worth the money, time and effort. Anyone remember Leveson on the press, for example?

Interestingly, the Institute for Government held a seminar back in 2013, looking at some of the lessons that can be learned from the way public inquiries are handled.

Patience needed

There are some other examples of important investigations that were of great public interest but involved exercising a degree of patience.

The Saville Inquiry into the events on Bloody Sunday in 1972 lasted 12 years. It was the longest running inquiry in British legal history. When it was set up in 1998 it was expected to last a year.

The final report ran to some 5,000 pages. The cost of the investigation is believed to have been around £195m.

The Francis inquiry into the health scandal at Mid-Staffs hospital, published in 2013, made 290 recommendations, in a report stretching to 2,000 pages. The cost ran into the millions.

The government accepted most of the recommendations. Does anyone remember what they were?

There have been a series of reports into child abuse deaths over the last two decades.

How successful they have been in bringing lasting change is debatable.

There is a crumb of comfort, though, in the knowledge that it's not just here that investigations don't quite run to schedule.

In India, it took 17 years and 48 extensions for the Liberhan Commission, investigating the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, to submit its report.

And in the Irish Republic, the Mahon Tribunal, launched to investigate allegations of corrupt payments to politicians, was set up in 1997 and published its final report in 2012.

The tribunal held public hearings over 15 years, gathering evidence hundreds of witnesses and the final report runs to 3,270 pages.

And in the context of waiting for reports, Chilcot isn't the only one.

It is worth noting that the Dame Janet Smith review, into the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC, has still to publish its findings.

It was set up in 2012 and has been subject to a number of delays.

No official publication date has been given. I wouldn't hold your breath.