Labour challenges George Osborne to back OBR audits of party manifestos

Labour challenges George Osborne to back OBR audits of party manifestos
Labour is publishing a draft amendment to the law that would ensure the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) can independently audit the spending and tax commitments in the manifestos of the main political parties.

Ed Balls MP, Labour’s shadow chancellor, has written to the Chancellor urging him to back the change so that the reforms can come into effect before the 2015 general election.

At the Labour Party Conference last month, Ed Balls announced that he wanted the OBR to independently audit the costings of every individual spending and tax measure in Labour’s manifesto at the next election.

Labour’s draft amendment states that before a general election, the OBR would be able to “provide independent scrutiny and certification of the policy costings of any political party which has at least 5 per cent of seats represented in the House of Commons at the request of that political party.”

Ed Balls has also written to Andrew Tyrie, Chair of the Treasury select committee, to seek his support for the reforms and to Robert Chote, Chairman of the OBR.

The full text of Ed Balls’ letter to George Osborne and Labour’s draft amendment can be found below:

Dear George,

As you know, I recently proposed that the role of the Office for Budget Responsibility be enhanced by enabling it to provide independent scrutiny and certification of costings of political parties’ manifesto commitments on spending and tax, while ensuring the OBR is not drawn into party politics by commenting on the merits of individual policies or examining alternative policy scenarios.

While the Chair of the Treasury select committee has previously said he is not absolutely sure the current legislation necessarily rules out such a role, the Chairman of the OBR has told me that the legal advice he has received from the Treasury Solicitor’s Department is that a change in the law is necessary for the OBR to carry out this role and to develop a political consensus on this change and protect the OBR’s independence.

As I said in Brighton, we would support any changes needed to the OBR’s Charter and primary legislation and would seek to build cross-party consensus to achieve it.

In order to achieve that consensus, I am today publishing a draft amendment to the law which would enable the OBR to carry out the role I have proposed. The Clerks of the House of Commons inform us that, with your support, one option available to us is to table this amendment to next year’s Finance Bill so that the change could be made well in advance of the 2015 general election.

I hope you will support this important reform, which I believe will enhance the role of the OBR while maintaining its impartiality and independence and ensure a more informed debate in Britain at the next election.

I am also writing to the Chair of the Treasury Committee to seek his support for this change.

I would be happy to discuss my proposal with you further and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Balls MP


Draft amendment

Office for Budget Responsibility

The Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011 is amended as follows:

(a)  after subsection 4(4) of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011 insert –

“(4A) It shall also, before a General Election,

(a)  provide independent scrutiny and certification of the policy costings of any political party which has at least 5 per cent of seats in the House of Commons at the request of that political party, subject to receiving sufficient information from that political party,

(b)  state whether it agrees or disagrees with the policy costings of the political party making a request, or whether it has been given insufficient time or information to reach a judgement, and

(c)  publish details of the independent scrutiny and certification of policy costings conducted under subsection (a) on the Office website, and place a copy in the Library of the House of Commons.”

(b)  omit subsection 5(3)(b) and insert –

“(b)  may not consider what the effect of any alternative policies would be, except in the performance of the duty contained in subsection 4(4A) above.”

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Posted October 15th, 2013 by Ed's team