George Osborne’s much-vaunted Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was supposedly set up to guarantee the “independence and integrity” of growth and borrowing figures which, he claimed, had been subject to “fiddling” under Labour.

Revelations that the OBR is is staffed by exactly the same Treasury economists that produced data slammed by Osborne have only strengthened claims that the whole thing is a cheap gimmick. Others have poured scorn on the OBR’s independent credentials, contrasting its vague legal status with that of bodies such as the National Audit Office and Office of National Statistics, which are truly independent through their accountability to parliament rather than the executive.

With Whitehall whisperings that the OBR came under pressure to overstate the problems facing the economy, how is the coalition spinning the composition of this body? Its official website states that OBR chief Sir Alan Budd is:

“… supported by a small secretariat of economists and public finance experts redeployed from within HM Treasury”

Well it seems they didn’t feel the need to “redeploy” them very far! –

As these exclusive images show, the former section for Macroeconomic and Fiscal Policy (MFP) was magically transformed into the Office for Budget Responsibility by … sticking a piece of paper over the old sign!

So the new “independent” OBR is not only staffed by the same economists but is located in exactly the same room – all within Osborne’s department.

At least they can’t use A4 paper to conceal their cuts.

UPDATE: The excellent Other TaxPayers’ Alliance have just tweeted their proposed re-brand!

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  19. In fairness that’s exactly the same as happened with the Bank of England isnt it?

    Also I believe the body will be put on a statutory footing similar to the ONS but Osborne wanted it set up pre-budget.

    As a final point, the issue wasnt that the stats they produced were dodgy, it was that they gave a ‘range’ of forecasts to the chancellor who chose which one they wanted. Now the forecast that goes into the budget is set by the OBR whether the chancellor likes it or not – no more mad forecasts of growth three years in the future to cover up governments profligate spending.

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  23. One indicator of a lack of independence is that the OBR’s figures keep on being leaked.

    Leaking stats in advance undermines them. Obviously, the political masters get first sight of new figures. This makes the figures vulnerable, both to pressure to change them if awkward (with feedback into the internal processes – self-censorship) and to advance spin that shapes the perception of the figures to political ends.

    (Perhaps we’ve already seen this with Cameron talking this week about big Labour spinning of earlier forecasts, accusations that Budd has not echoed).

    For theses reasons (plus market sensitivity), it’s established pretty much everywhere now that important economic stats ought to be released in a controlled way without leaks and advance info to ministers.

    The whole point about the OBR is that it’s supposed to be independent. But when it plays footsie with ministers in advance, that claim starts to disintegrate.

    To be independent, the OBR would have to move out of the Treasury. Has that been promised?

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