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Rishi Sunak accuses Liz Truss of trying to ‘avoid scrutiny’ over plan to hold budget without official forecast | Politics News

Liz Truss has been accused of trying to “avoid independent scrutiny” as she prepares to hold a budget next month without an official economic forecast, despite one being ready should she ask.

Having an emergency budget in September – in which she will make long-term funding pledges – has been a key part of the frontrunner’s campaign to get into Number 10.

The move has been branded “worrying” by an economist and expert in government finance, while the team behind Conservative leadership rival Rishi Sunak accused Ms Truss of wanting “to avoid independent scrutiny”.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) provides forecasts for all budgets as part of the founding law of the body, enacted in 2010.

Despite being funded by the Treasury, it is fully independent.

While the OBR is ready to provide an analysis for Ms Truss if she asks for it, the former Treasury minister – who counts the chancellor and chief secretary to the Treasury among her supporters – wants to go ahead without it.

A Truss spokesperson said: “The cost of living crisis means immediate action is required. A Truss government would seek to act as soon as possible to help people across the UK, by cutting taxes and introducing a temporary moratorium on energy levies.”

A source in the Truss campaign told Sky News that a forecast wasn’t necessary for a “targeted fiscal event”.

But more criticism came from the former head of policy for Margaret Thatcher, the Tory PM who Ms Truss has been accused of styling herself on during the campaign.

Lord Griffiths, who is now a Conservative peer, said: “The Bank of England’s devastating outlook for the economy contrasts with Liz’s optimism – for her to now prevent the OBR doing proper analysis of the facts would seem to indicate complete loss of confidence in the policy she is advocating.”

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What’s the state of the Tory leadership race?

Truss risks ‘dangerous’ borrowing levels

Ms Truss has come under criticism for a perceived lack of clarity over her money promises, with veteran former cabinet minister Michael Gove accusing her of taking a “holiday from reality”.

She wants to spend £30m on cutting taxes – like reversing the National Insurance rise and cancelling the uplift in corporation tax – using money that economists no longer think exists due to inflation.

Ms Truss has also hinted she may spend more money by providing further help to people this winter, despite previously saying she would not.

Mr Sunak said she would plunge the economy into an “inflation spiral” if she does not choose between tax cuts and providing cost of living support, as it would mean “dangerous” levels of borrowing.

“The reality is that Truss cannot deliver a support package as well as come good on £50bn worth of unfunded, permanent tax cuts in one go,” his team said.

Read more:
Truss hits back at ‘portents of doom’ over her tax plans
Inflation fuels 63% hike in UK debt costs as borrowing outstrips forecasts

Not consulting the OBR for short-term financial measures, like giving help to people over the winter, is not unreasonable, according to Thomas Pope, the deputy chief economist at the Institute for Government.

However, enacting tax cuts without a forecast – especially when one is ready – is a “worrying decision”, he said.

“It would be reasonable to make some short-term announcements to alleviate the energy bills crisis without an OBR report because the immediate support package is not so dependent on the long-term outlook,” he said.

“But there should be no rush to announce any permanent tax cuts, and any such decisions should be accompanied by the best possible information, which the OBR would provide.”

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, has estimated that if Ms Truss wins, Britain’s budget deficit is likely to hit about £170bn in the current financial year, about three times its size before the pandemic.

Tory Leadership: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss promise to increase scrutiny of Scottish govt as they head to Perth | Politics News

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have both promised to increase scrutiny of the Scottish government if they become the next prime minister – ahead of a visit north of the border.

Ms Truss, who remains the favourite to win the race, said she would get “Scotland’s economy moving” and would give Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) special legal protection, allowing them to be more outspoken as they scrutinise decisions made by the devolved government.

Mr Sunak promised Scottish civil servants would face greater scrutiny from Westminster and UK ministers would be required to be more visible in Scotland.

The pair will face questions from Tory members in Perth on Tuesday following a verbal tussle between Ms Truss and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over the past week.

Ms Truss called Ms Sturgeon an “attention seeker”, then the Scottish leader claimed the foreign secretary asked her how to get into Vogue before Ms Truss accused all three devolved nations’ leaders of playing “political games” over independence.

Calling herself a “child of the Union”, Ms Truss said she will deliver for all of the country and “will never talk down Scotland’s potential”, while saying the nation has been “let down by the SNP”.

She added: “I’ll make sure that my government does everything to ensure elected representatives hold the devolved administration to account for its failure to deliver the quality public services, particularly health and education, that Scottish people deserve.

“As prime minister and minister for the Union, I will deliver on my ambitious plan to capitalise on the opportunity we have to turbocharge the growth and business investment required to get Scotland’s economy moving.”

Ms Truss’ campaign team said she would push for a trade deal with India in which a long-standing 150% tariff on whisky exports would be slashed.

She would also alter the Scotland Act to give parliamentary privilege to MSPs to create more “robust questioning” of ministers and increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament to hold the Scottish government to account.

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Nicola Sturgeon is ‘an attention seeker’

Mr Sunak pledged to make it a requirement for Scotland’s most senior civil servant, the permanent secretary to the Scottish government, to attend Westminster’s Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC) Select Committee every year – just like the UK government’s cabinet secretary.

He also promised to enforce “consistent reporting of public service performance data across the country” so Westminster could hold the Scottish government accountable for essential public service delivery.

The former chancellor said each nation needs to work together “shoulder to shoulder” as he accused the SNP of being able to “obscure its failures by picking and choosing the data it publishes”.

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Sturgeon is ‘always moaning’

Mr Sunak has been trailing behind in the polls of Tory members, who will decide who their new leader – and therefore prime minister – will be on 5 September.

He was handed a further blow on Monday after a third Conservative MP, former Welsh secretary Alun Cairns, switched allegiance from Mr Sunak to Ms Truss, saying he believes she is best placed to save the union and fears the break-up of the UK would be more likely under Mr Sunak.