OBR cancels release of fresh public finance forecasts after Sedwill advice

Cabinet Office says pre-election guidance applies to all civil servants and NDPB staff

OBR chair Robert Chote. Photo: PA

The Office for Budget Responsibility has said it will not publish its restated government fiscal forecast as planned today after advice from cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.

The Treasury-sponsored body, which provides independent economic forecasts and analysis of public finances, was due to give its restated forecast today, the date that the chancellor, Sajid Javid, had been due to give his first Budget speech. The Budget was cancelled after prime minister Boris Johnson pushed for a general election, which parliament eventually voted to hold on 12 December.

Last month the OBR notified the Treasury, as well as the committee of MPs that sponsors the department’s work, of its plans to publish a technical restatement of its March public finance forecast.


This would have brought it “into line with current ONS statistical treatment”, the OBR said. It would have included up-to-date analysis of recent developments including the Office for National Statistics decision to include student debts into the public finances in December – which could have seen the recorded deficit rise by £12bn as most student loans will never be paid off.

It would not have included any new forecast judgements regarding the economy, the public finances or the impact of Brexit.

OBR chair Robert Chote said in his letter to Treasury permanent secretary that "given the importance of these changes for public understanding of the baseline against which the government will need to judge its fiscal policy options, we believe that it would be useful to explain publicly the impact that they would have had on our March forecast, had they been known at the time."

But in an announcement today, the OBR said: “This will no longer go ahead as the cabinet secretary has concluded that this would not be consistent with the Cabinet Office’s general election guidance.”

The pre-election guidance, which came into effect yesterday, prevents civil servants from making announcements that could influence an election during a campaign.

Asked about the OBR’s announcement, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The Cabinet Office's guidance applies to all UK civil servants, and the board members and staff of non-departmental public bodies and arms’ length bodies."

The OBR announcement comes after it emerged that the government would not publish its estimates of how much the Labour Party policies would cost if the opposition were to win power in the upcoming election.

It was reported that Sedwill prevented the cross-departmental analysis from being made public just hours before the pre-election rules came into force, saying it would be inappropriate for officials to publish it.

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