Kwarteng refuses to commit to bringing spending plans forward

Confusion follows reports that chancellor's fiscal statement could be moved from 23 November
Kwarteng leaving Downing Street earlier this year. Photo: Malcolm Park/Alamy Live News

By Alain Tolhurst

05 Oct 2022

Chaos and confusion continued at Conservative party conference on Tuesday after chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng refused to confirm reports he would deliver his medium-term fiscal plan before 23 November, but government sources wouldn't rule out the possibility of bringing it forward either.

On Monday a number of news outlets reported that Kwarteng had conceded he would need to set out his medium-term fiscal plan, alongside an independent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, before the end of this month. 

The apparent u-turn came after he initially appeared to reject pressure from MPs, including Tory chair of the Treasury Committee Mel Stride, to bring the spending plans forward to reassure the financial markets, which have been in turmoil since Kwarteng's "mini-budget" just over a week ago.

But Kwarteng has now told GB News that he intends to stick to the original date of 23 November. 

While no revised date for the statement had been briefed, it was understood that the government intended to deliver it "shortly". 

“Shortly is the 23rd [of November]. People reading the runes – it’s going to be the 23rd,” Kwarteng said on Tuesday however.

But since his comment, government sources are still suggesting the date could be brought forward.

On Monday evening a number of media outlets reported the decision to bring the statement, which will have the long-awaited OBR reported published alongside it, would be made in October.

The Financial Times reported that the chancellor was expected to accelerate publication of the statement, which would set out a five-year plan to reduce the public debt and cut public spending.

A government source told Reuters the "OBR can move quicker, so can we”, a move that was welcomed last night by Stride.

"I have pressed the chancellor very hard on this and to his credit he has listened,” he told CSW's sister title PoliticsHome in the wake of initial reports of a u-turn. 

“Provided the OBR forecast and new fiscal targets are credible then bringing these forward should calm markets more quickly and reduce the upward pressure on interest rates to the benefit of millions of people up and down the country.”

Stride said moving the statement to before the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee meets on 3 November “should help to reassure our rate setters that they can go with a smaller base rate increase than would otherwise be the case”.

But prime minister Liz Truss has also repeated yesterday that the fiscal plan would be published on the original date.

“We’ve got the date of November 23,” she told GB News. “This is when we are going to set out the OBR forecast, but also the medium-term fiscal plan.

“What we’ve done is we’ve had to take very urgent action to deal with the issues we face – energy plan, inflation and the slowing global economy.”

A Treasury source said it was “just a statement of fact” that the fiscal event is due to take place on 23 November unless it is announced otherwise.

The pound rose to a two-week high above $1.14 this morning following reports the statement would be brought forward, but it slipped back on currency markets after Kwarteng’s comments.

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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