THE highly respected Institue of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has been a thorn in the side of government – both Conservative and Labour – for as long as I can remember.
During the Gordon Brown era it constantly pulled up the then chancellor for overpromising on the public finances and earlier this week it savaged the current regime, declaring that its recent Budget will hit the poorest hardest.
If it was seen to have been constantly nit-picking, but without any merit, then the IFS would not have the reputation it has today.
Unfortunately some think that this week’s row over whether the IFS was right to describe chancellor George Osborne’s first Budget as unfair might jeopardise the chances of its head, Robert Chote, becoming the second head of the Office for Budget Responsibility.
But it shouldn’t do.
It is typical of Chote, a former journalist with the Independent – where I worked with him – and the Financial Times – that the little matter of the possibility of a plum job in government would not make an iota of difference to his organisation’s take on the Budget.
Osborne and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg made much of the Budget’s fairness and for the IFS to have questioned this claim was bound to cause a stir. It would also have caused more than a little irritation.
But it would not have crossed Chote’s mind to pull some punches when it came to the crunch.
But if Osborne and Clegg can stomach it, they should embrace Chote, not keep him out of the fold.
The Office of Budget Responsibility will only work as an institution if it is seen to be totally free of government and the Treasury. The first incumbent, Sir Alan Budd, was never viewed as a man who might stand up to strong political pressure and his short reign has ended in tears.
Chote has spent his career, both as a journalist and as head of the IFS, as a man unafraid to take on any party, and to do so in an extremely thorough way, with judgments backed by the hard numbers. It’s still not clear whether he has applied for the post or has been approached. But the government shouldn’t let this week’s row get in the way. In my view, an early announcement heralding his appointment would be good for all concerned.
As the leaves fall onto the ground to usher in the autumn, there is always an air of excitement and expectation about the place. The holidays were fun but now we’re ready to swap the silly season for the busy season.
At City A.M. there’s plenty to look forward to. As from next Tuesday (we’re not publishing on Bank Holiday Monday) we’ll be available at a host of new stations including Marylebone, High Barnet and Angel. Circulation will be increasing throughout the autumn with a growing number of readers able to get the newspaper at the beginning of their journey. Also on Tuesday we’ll begin the unveiling of the short list for our inaugural awards competition that will take place at the Grange Hotel on 28 October.
This will be a time to acknowledge the heroes of the business world. So don’t miss next week’s papers to see if you or your company is in the mix. Have a great Bank Holiday weekend.
Allister Heath is away