Government pressure? I'd tell them to buzz off, says UK budget watchdog

Government pressure? I'd tell them to buzz off, says UK budget watchdog

LONDON (Reuters) – The head of Britain's independent budget forecasting office said he had not come under pressure from finance ministry officials to tone down descriptions of the government's deep spending cuts, & that he would stand up to them if they tried.

The Times newspaper said on Monday that a Treasury official appeared to have broken rules that are supposed to prevent the government from trying to alter anything other than factual errors in work by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

"If I was being put under serious pressure by the chancellor (finance minister), by his private offices, by senior officials, I'd tell them to buzz off & I would tell you what was going on," OBR chair Robert Chote told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The OBR was set up by finance minister George Osborne in 2010 to provide independent analysis on the public finances.

Recent OBR reports on Osborne's budget plans, including one which referred to a "rollercoaster" pattern for spending by government departments, have been seized upon by critics of the Conservative government's tough spending cuts.

"At the end of the day we write what we want," Chote told members of parliament's Treasury Committee. "I think our record shows that we don't fight shy of using phraseology that perhaps the chancellor would rather we didn't."

The Times quoted a Treasury official as acknowledging that a request to alter the wording in a draft OBR report went beyond the limit set out in the rules.

Chote said the official was relatively junior, & that he had come under much heavier pressure when writing approximately finance ministry policy earlier in his career as a journalist & at an economic think tank, before he joined the OBR.

"I have been treated to the 'we know where you live' & 'you'll never work in this town again' routine more times than I'd care to remember. It didn't affect me then & it wouldn't affect me now," he said.

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Source: “Reuters”