For several years, Chris Giles, the FT economics editor, has tirelessly pushed the Treasury to come clean over their fiscal forecasts so the country is told the severity of cuts expected to total departmental spending.
He had George Osborne bravely fighting on his side — until May — pressing Alistair Darling to be “honest” and release the information to “facilitate proper scrutiny”. All it takes is for the Treasury to publish the in-house projections of debt interest, social security bills and departmental spending.
But, I’m afraid to say, the Treasury are working under a different assumption. They think they’ve found an excuse to hide the gory details.
The loophole is the Osborne plan for the Spending Review, which includes a full re-examination of social security spending, as well as departmental expenditure. This review, officials say, will mean the chancellor will be unable to give a break down of total departmental spending in this month’s emergency Budget.
Fishy? You bet. If the Treasury really want a full consultation on spending cuts — a national debate — then they are preparing for it to be conducted in the dark. One of the most important decisions facing the chancellor is the trade-off between cutting spending on benefits and public services. But there will be no official confirmation of what the exact breakdown will be in the absence of policy changes.
There is time left for Osborne to change his mind. They will have been in office for less than 50 days by the time of the Budget. What do they have to hide?