Having been established by the government to take the politics out of fiscal and economic forecasting, the independence of the Office for Budget Responsibility is fundamental to its credibility and legitimacy. The appointment of Robert Chote as Chair in 2010 appears to have enhanced the OBR’s standing in this regard, but has not completely swept away all concerns about the OBR’s relationship to government. On the day the OBR releases its latest analysis of the UK’s public finances, Craig Berry and Richard Berry ask whether the agency has yet been able to break free from the political grasp of the Treasury.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was established to help ensure the government’s fiscal and economic forecasts are credible and transparent. The key innovation designed to achieve this objective was that the OBR would be independent of the Treasury, and therefore outside direct ministerial control. When Robert Chote was appointed as the second Chair of the OBR in 2010 – an appointment approved by Parliament – it appeared to confirm that the agency would be genuinely independent. Indeed, there is no reason to doubt the impartiality of the OBR’s analysis. The idea that the OBR acts with complete autonomy, however, is highly questionable – it remains a very small organisation, integrated almost seamlessly with the Treasury apparatus. Continue reading