An influential group of MPs have today raised red flags over the independence of the government’s statistics watchdog, after multiple emails revealed that Treasury officials requested changes to descriptive text accompanying official forecasts.
The Treasury Select Committee said in a new report out today that the emails “raise concerns about the terms of engagement” between the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and government officials.
The emails in question were sent between the Treasury and the OBR in the run-up to the publication of the OBR’s December 2014 Economic and Fiscal outlook alongside the 2014 Autumn Statement.
In one email, a Treasury official wrote: “It won’t come as a surprise I’m sure, but we haven’t strictly stuck to the ‘factual changes only’ requests so we’re giving you our full download and suggestions.
“As usual, we would be very grateful if you could consider these and the phrasing around a lot of this.”
Commenting on the findings, Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie who chairs the Treasury Select Committee, said: “This looks like a misjudgment. It gives the appearance of a minister trying to lean on the OBR.
“The OBR’s independence is hard-earned and easily squandered.”
Tyrie is calling for a revision to the OBR’s “Memorandum of Understanding” to “make crystal clear that early sight of the OBR’s work is for fact-checking and quality assurance purposes only”.
A Treasury spokesperson said the department would respond formally to the Treasury Select Committee report “in due course”, but defended the Treasury’s relationship with the OBR, saying: “In establishing the OBR in 2010, independence and transparency was introduced to economic and fiscal forecasting process for the first time ever, with clear safeguards established to make sure this is protected.
“Officials and ministers have acted entirely properly, respecting that independence, at all times.”