A Treasury minister has contradicted the UK’s independent watchdog for public finances, claiming it would not have been able to produce a forecast in time for the government’s mini-budget.
Andrew Griffith, the financial secretary to the Treasury, told broadcasters the growth plan put forward by the prime minister, Liz Truss, and the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, contained “a lot of detail” and repeatedly asserted it was “40 pages long”, meaning it would have been impossible for the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to have produced an accurate forecast in time.
On Thursday night the OBR confirmed in a letter to an MP that it could have produced an assessment in time but was not asked to do so by the chancellor.
Truss and Kwarteng’s decision not to engage with the OBR over the £45bn package of tax cuts and £60bn energy support package unveiled last Friday has been widely cited by financial experts as one of the key reasons behind market turmoil this week.
In an unusual move, it was revealed that Truss will join Kwarteng on Friday at a meeting with Richard Hughes, the OBR chair.
Asked by BBC Breakfast why the OBR was not given the opportunity to make an assessment of the plan, Griffith suggested the level of “detail” in the plan made it impossible for the independent watchdog to assess it before the government published it.
“This growth plan is full of detail about how this government is going to grow the economy. Forty pages,” he said. “Details of infrastructure plans that have been long held up that we are going to crack through, detail about how we are going to bring forward the new clean energy revolution. It is for the OBR to ultimately decide how they reflect that in their plans.”
Pressed about how many pages were in a normal budget document and how quickly the OBR could turn around an analysis of those plans, Griffith said: “To be honest, I am not going to answer that, I just don’t know. It is quite chunky.”
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Griffith appeared to concede the government had presented the country with a “partial” plan.
He said the government had yet to set out further measures to support growth in the UK, including changes to housing and industrial action.
Asked if he accepted the former Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s assessment of the plan as a “partial budget”, Griffith said: “I was a finance director for 11 years, people always wanted the plan tomorrow, they always wanted the definitive numbers.
“But they also wanted those plans to be detailed enough, and have all the measures and wrap in all the latest available information.
“There is a balance. It’s hard to get that balance right for everybody all of the time, but there’s a balance between having a plan quickly but also a plan that can properly wrap in details of the measures.”
In a letter to the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, and the SNP’s Treasury spokeswoman, Alison Thewliss, the OBR chair confirmed that the body sent “a draft economic and fiscal forecast to the new chancellor on 6 September, his first day in office”.
Hughes wrote: “We offered, at the time, to update that forecast to take account of subsequent data and to reflect the economic and fiscal impact of any policies the government announced in time for it to be published alongside the ‘fiscal event’.”
He said the OBR was not commissioned to produce an updated forecast, but confirmed that it would have been in “a position to do so to a standard that satisfied the legal requirements of the charter for budget responsibility”.