OBR chief: I won't "beat up" Treasury officials over forecast suggestions

Robert Chote – reappointed as chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility watchdog – says he is "relaxed" about Treasury suggesting changes to its independent forecasts

By matt.foster

16 Sep 2015

The chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility has insisted his independent budget watchdog will "write what we want", after emails showed the Treasury suggesting changes to its forecasts.

The OBR was set up by chancellor George Osborne in 2010, and is tasked with providing independent analysis of the UK's finances. A memorandum of understanding between the watchdog and the Treasury says civil servants working in the department may suggest changes only on points of fact.

Emails released to The Times under Freedom of Information laws earlier this week showed that Treasury officials had recommended changes to the language of OBR analysis ahead of last year's Autumn Statement.

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 "As usual we would be be very grateful if you could consider these and the phrasing around a lot of this," one email said.

But at a hearing of the Treasury select committee on Tuesday, the watchdog's chief Robert Chote stressed the independence of the OBR's work.

 "In 20 years as a journalist and at the IFS [Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank] writing about Treasury policy, I've been treated to 'We know where you live' and 'You'll never work in this town again' more times than I care to remember," he told the committee. 

"It didn't affect me then and it wouldn't affect me now. If I was being put under serious pressure by the chancellor, private officers, senior officials, I would tell them to buzz off. And I would tell you what was going on."

But Chote also defended the right of the Treasury officials to make suggestions, saying he was "relaxed" about the practice and would not "sit here and beat up on a hard working Grade 6 for having the temerity to offer us drafting advice".

As expected, the committee backed the reappointment of Chote as OBR chair, a position he has held since 2010. He will now serve a second five-year term. Sir David Ramsden – the Treasury's chief economic adviser – will be questioned by the commitee next month, as MPs seek reassurance that the independence of the watchdog has been maintained.

The OBR has an annual budget of £2m, with a permanent staff of 19 civil servants led by head of staff Andy King.

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