OBR to be challenged on Treasury influence on forecasts

Posted On: 
14th September 2015

The Treasury admitted it has not “strictly stuck” to a rule designed to prevent the department from meddling with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts.

Emails released to The Times under FoI laws show the Treasury acknowledging that it has gone further than taking up issues of fact, the only interference permitted under the laws which set up the OBR.

An email from the department to the OBR before last December’s Autumn Statement read: “It won’t come as a surprise I’m sure, but we haven’t strictly stuck to the ‘factual changes only’ requests so we’re giving you our full download and suggestions...  As usual, we would be very grateful if you could consider these and the phrasing around a lot of this.”

Treasury officials asked the OBR to reconsider the wording of some of its analysis in the draft forecast including the phrases “steep cuts” and the claim that spending would fall “considerably further” as a proportion of GDP.

Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Committee, said he would be raising the issue with Robert Chote, the OBR chairman, at a hearing tomorrow.

“These emails give the impression of an attempt to influence the OBR’s economic and fiscal outlook beyond the making of any ‘factual comments on the presentation of analysis or forecasts’, as required in the OBR’s memorandum of understanding,” the Tory MP added.

Mr Chote, however, has already downplayed the importance of the correspondence, telling the newspaper he was “perfectly relaxed if the Treasury wants to offer suggestions on draft text and would be quite surprised if they didn’t”.

“Sometimes their suggestions are sensible and useful; sometimes they aren’t,” he said. “At the end of the day, we write what we want.”