Despite the problems, the OBR should audit parties’ manifestos

Time is running for the Office of Budget Responsibility to audit the General Election manifestos of the opposition parties. This coming from Robert Chote, the OBR’s Chairman, who’s been speaking to The Independent.

It’s an idea that been kicking around for a while and was first mooted by George Osborne way back in 2010. Ironically, it’s an idea the Chancellor is no longer fond of, but the man who would replace him at the Exchequer, Ed Balls, is certainly keen. As is Andrew Tyrie, Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee. But there are various sticking points. Mr Osborne apparently (according to Mr Chote) is wary of throwing the OBR, an organisation still in its infancy, into such a politically charged environment. And there’s also the precedent of having civil servants work with or for the Opposition to consider.

Like any good political strategist, Ed Balls recognises the value in getting the OBR to sign off Labour policies. Labour will come into the General Election still saddled with baggage from its last 13 years in government, legacy of public spending and of course the budget deficit inherited by the Coalition. By getting sign off from the OBR, Mr Balls recognises that Labour can take a major step to demonstrating its fiscal responsibility to the electorate. Although, any PR consultant or political advisor worth their salt will point out this is a double edged sword and the OBR could rubbish Labour’s manifesto – which would be a body blow to Mr Balls personally, as well as the Party’s credibility and chances of electoral victory.

Robert Chote has set a three month deadline for the parties to reach a consensus, after which he will not have the OBR take on the auditing of manifestos. A consensus should be reached. There are problems to overcome, but the electorate should have the confidence come polling day that whoever they are voting for has a set of financially responsible policies that are achievable.

Chris Rogers