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‘We don’t know’ how Chancellor will make budget spending plan add up, says OBR

12 Mar 2024 3 minute read
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box before delivering his Budget. Photo Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The head of the UK’s official forecaster has warned that “we don’t know” how the Government will make its spending plans add up amid concerns over a lack of detail from last week’s Budget.

Richard Hughes, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), told MPs at the treasury select committee that it is “difficult” for the fiscal watchdog to accurately forecast the outlook for public finances as a result.

It comes around two months after Mr Hughes said spending forecasts in November’s autumn statement were beyond “a work of fiction”, in a scathing criticism of the support received from the Treasury.

On Tuesday, he said there is longer-term information about tax but that spending information runs out next year.


“There continues to be an imbalance between how much detail we have of the Government’s tax plans, which support their objective of getting debt falling in five years’ time, and the amount of detail we have about its plans for departmental spending, which makes up 40% of total public spending,” Mr Hughes said.

“We know the Government’s plans for National Insurance, we know the Government’s plans for energy taxation in five years’ time.

“But what we know about Government’s plans for spending on public services runs out after March of next year.

“It’s still lacking in detail, and difficult for us as forecasters to forecast, difficult for people to understand where the public finances are going, and it poses risks.”

National Insurance 

Last week, the Chancellor announced a 2p reduction in National Insurance as part of a key Budget ahead of this year’s general election.

The forecaster said proposed tax cuts would be partly financed by some reductions to spending as well as a fall in fiscal headroom – the state’s buffer to meet fiscal rules – from around £13 billion to £8.9 billion.

On Tuesday, the OBR stressed that the Chancellors budget “only just” met fiscal rules and still faces “significant risks”.

Mr Hughes said: “The Budget was responsible in terms of the objectives the Chancellor has set for himself – in five years to get debt to begin to fall in share of GDP (gross domestic product).

“However, it does that with one of the narrowest margins any Chancellor has had against his fiscal targets.

“It’s the second narrowest of £9 billion and the very narrowest was this time last year.

“It’s meeting those fiscal targets, but only just.

“There are significant risks to the fiscal outlook weighing on that margin, not least the ones that are very likely to crystallise, such as fuel duty being frozen rather than indexed.”

The fiscal headroom room would be halved if the Government ultimately freezes fuel duty – as it has done every year for the past decade – and wiped out completely if it meets a commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, the OBR said.

The forecaster said this could be offset by spending cuts, but that it does not yet know where these might be made.

Mr Hughes said: “The have a workforce plan for the NHS, they have commitment to grow defence spending in line with GDP, they have commitments to grow overseas aid spending in line with GDP.

“They have ambitions in some areas to go even further.

“How they make that add up with the rest of Whitehall departments, we don’t know.”

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Ap Kenneth
28 days ago

This budget was not about economic competence but about heaping salt on the land to make it barren for whoever takes over.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
28 days ago

Thus proving that it is in fact the Tories who are crap at economic policy.

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