Andrew Tyrie condemns Treasury over OBR interference

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Treasury committee chairman Andrew Tyrie has condemned attempts by the Government to make non-factual changes to reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Reports emerged in mid-September that Treasury officials had asked the OBR to alter the wording of its independent forecasts, including requesting the removal of references to “steep cuts”.

While the phrase was taken out of the OBR’s Economic and Fiscal Outlook, other references to spending falling “considerably further”, which were also objected to, were retained.

In a report reviewing the role of the OBR, Tyrie describes the actions of the Government as a “misjudgement”.

He says: “It gives the appearance of a minister trying to lean on the OBR. The OBR’s independence is hard-earned and easily squandered.

“Little or no damage appears to have been done in this case, but this shouldn’t be repeated. The Treasury Committee will do what it can to prevent any further such episodes.”

As a result, Tyrie has called for a revised memorandum of understanding to clarify the role of the OBR, with Government input on papers limited to fact-checking and quality assurance.

Any requests or comments that could be construed as going beyond this should be brought to the attention of the chairman immediately and, if necessary, the chairman of the BRC.

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell welcomed the recommendations as a vital step to preserving the independence of the OBR.

He says: “It’s worrying to learn that people at the Treasury have been leaning on OBR officials. George Osborne must do everything in his power to ensure OBR staff are never again put in this situation by Treasury ministers or their officials.

“The Chancellor has questions to answer personally on this, as we need to know whether or not he was aware of this practice.”