The government has named Richard Hughes, a former Treasury and International Monetary Fund official, as the preferred candidate to head the Office for Budget Responsibility, to replace Robert Chote later this year.
Hughes, an advisor to the IMF, began his career in the Treasury as a deputy director working on the Comprehensive Spending Review from 2000 to 2007. He then spent eight years at the International Monetary Fund as the chief of the body’s fiscal affairs department, before returning to the Treasury as director of fiscal policy for three years from 2016 to 2019.
Since May 2019, he has worked as a research associate at the Resolution Foundation, where he published papers on fiscal rules, public investment, and the economic and fiscal implications of coronavirus. In the last year, he has also served as senior counsellor to France’s independent High Council on Public Finance (Haut Conseil des Finances Publiques) and lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris.
In his new role, Hughes will head the independent watchdog that is responsible for producing the official UK economic and fiscal forecasts, assessing the government’s performance against its fiscal rules and reporting on the sustainability of and risks to the public finances.
He will replace Chote, who was the first permanent chair of the OBR and was first appointed in 2010, when the OBR was first established. He has served two 5-year terms after he was reappointed in 2015, and appointments to the budget responsibility committee cannot serve more than two terms.
Announcing the appointment, which is subject to approval by the Treasury select committee, chancellor Rishi Sunak, said that at a time when the state has had to take unprecedented action to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, “it is essential that our institutions work as they should to ensure that we retain our complete commitment to strong public finances and responsible management of taxpayers’ money”.
He added: “That makes the independence and role of the Office for Budget Responsibility all the more important. So I am delighted to nominate Richard Hughes to be the next chair of the OBR. We’re doing so months ahead of the handover to give the institution the certainty it needs to continue to play its vital role in supporting the credibility of the UK’s fiscal framework.”
Hughes said he was honoured to be nominated to be the next chair.
He added: “It is both a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility to be proposed for this position during one of the most challenging times for the UK economy and public finances in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
Both Sunak and Hughes paid tribute to chair Chote.
The chancellor said “I would like to thank Robert Chote for the excellent work he and his team have done over the past ten years”, while Hughes added: “I would like to thank the current chair Robert Chote, [committee members] Charlie Bean, Andy King and the staff of the OBR for all the work they have done over the last decade to establish it as one of the preeminent independent fiscal agencies in the world. Like them, I am committed to upholding the OBR’s well-deserved reputation for objective, transparent, and rigorous analysis of economic and fiscal developments.
Hughes will now appear before the Treasury Select Committee “in due course”.
Responding to the news, Resolution Foundation chief executive Torsten Bell said Sunak has “made an excellent choice nominating Richard Hughes to be the next chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility”.
He added: “Richard has made a huge contribution to economic policy making over the past two decades both independently of and within governments around the world, including as a research associate here at the Resolution Foundation. Throughout he has shown a strong commitment to public service.
“I wish Richard all the best in the next stage of that service. The OBR is a crucial institution, at a critical juncture for the economy, and it couldn’t be in better hands.”