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Tyrie to scrutinise Treasury OBR correspondence

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Treasury select committee chairman Andrew Tyrie has asked the Office for Budget Responsibility to provide records of contact with the Treasury, following reports of Government officials trying to influence the body.

The Times reported this weekend that HMT officials had asked the OBR to alter the wording of its independent forecasts.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the Times found the Treasury had asked the OBR to remove references to “steep cuts” to current spending in its December forecast, which it did, while other references to spending falling “considerably further” were also objected to, although the OBR retained the wording.

While the OBR publishes logs of all substantive contact with the Treasury, the interactions were deemed too minor to be revealed.

However, Tyrie today asked OBR chairman Robert Chote to provide MPs with records of all exchanges between the Treasury’s receipt of the pre-release text of the December economic and fiscal outlook and its publication days later.

He said: “I think we had better see all correspondence and a log of all contacts of any type. I realise that this might involve a bit of bureaucracy, but I think we had better see it and reflect on it.”

In response, Chote emphasised the importance of “candid” exchanges between the OBR and the Treasury, and played down the influence of Government officials on the OBR’s work.

He said: “We write what we want, the record shows we don’t fight shy at using phraseology I’m the sure the Chancellor would rather we didn’t.

“We have referred to spending falling to its lowest share of GDP since the 1930s and I suspect that is not the phraseology that the Chancellor would have chosen for himself.

“Similarly, I don’t think they were pleased with the use of rollercoaster as a description of the path of departmental expenditure plans in March. Some people have suggested to me that it was inappropriate, but I said I felt it was necessary to create an impression to a wide audience of stakeholders.”

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