The Office for Budget Responsibility has a new chairman in the form of Robert Chote. The current head of Institute for Fiscal Studies will take up his new role in preparation for October’s government spending review.
The OBR was set up in May to scrutinise the performance of UK governments and the news has been welcomed by many who felt the government was too involved with the last chairperson. Many economists believed that previous ministerial interference reduced the body’s ability to perform independently of the government.
Mr Chote gained the approval from MPs for the new role after becoming a highly respected figure at Westminster due to his work at the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Talking about the new role, Mr Chote has said he will work hard to continue to maintain the body’s independence despite working from Whitehall.
“Some people are bound to remain concerned that you necessarily have contact with and work with officials. But I can guarantee the answers I give will be honest – I just can’t guarantee they will be accurate because forecasting by its nature is surrounded by huge uncertainties,” he said.
Despite the welcomed approval, Mr Chote has already raised a few eyebrows in his new role. He believes the body should take a wider role and work with opposition parties to discuss all budget options, however he said any decision on whether the OBR should be allowed to respond to opposite fiscal audit requests was not for him to make.
“Whether the OBR should respond to requests is a very important question for Parliament. I wouldn’t want ambiguity to be a source of concern about its independence. It is for Parliament and legislation to give the OBR a clear steer on this,” he said.
Mr Chote will replace the body’s interim chairperson Sir Alan Budd. Mr Budd was at the centre of controversy earlier this year when he bought forward the publication of key employment forecasts just hours before Prime Minister’s Question Time. Many believe this unscheduled release allowed David Cameron to fend off Labour attacks and led many to question the body’s independence of the government.