Watchdog challenges Sunak’s assertion of reducing public debt.

According to the regulator, the Prime Minister’s statements may have eroded trust in the government’s use of statistics. The head of the UK’s official statistics watchdog, Sir Robert Chote, has raised concerns over Rishi Sunak’s claim of reducing public debt. Chote argued that the Prime Minister’s definition of debt reduction was too specific and limited, potentially misleading voters.

In a letter to Sarah Olney, the Treasury spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Chote stated that the UK Statistics Authority’s regulatory arm, the Office for Statistics Regulation, would collaborate with the Prime Minister’s office to ensure that future statements regarding debt levels align with their guidance on transparent and intelligent reporting.

The issue was brought to Chote’s attention by Olney after Sunak mentioned in a social media video that “debt is falling” and during prime minister’s questions that “we have indeed reduced debt”. Downing Street informed the UKSA that both statements were based on forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility, indicating that net debt as a proportion of GDP would decline in the final year of the five-year forecast (2027-28) mentioned in the autumn statement.

However, Chote highlighted that the reduction in debt was primarily due to adjustments in the OBR’s fiscal projections, with government decisions on tax and spending actually resulting in higher debt. He emphasized that while using debt as a proportion of GDP is acceptable, the average person would likely interpret Sunak’s statements to mean that debt was already decreasing and that government actions influenced this, which is untrue.

“This has clearly caused confusion and potentially undermined trust in the government’s use of statistics and quantitative analysis in this area,” Chote wrote in his letter. He also noted that the public cannot be expected to comprehend the intricacies of public finance statistics and the specific choices made for a particular claim to be accurate.

Olney criticized Sunak for undermining trust in politics by resorting to tactics from the “Boris Johnson playbook.” She stated that Sunak fabricated a positive story about the UK economy due to his lack of one. In response, a government source reaffirmed that the OBR’s clear stance dictates that the UK is on track to reduce debt thanks to their long-term decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *