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Sunak’s tax figures speak of ‘damaging confidence’, the statistics watchdog says

Rishi Sunak’s claim that Treasury officials were responsible for an analysis of labor tax promises based on Conservative Party figures is damaging confidence in political debate, Britain’s statistics watchdog said.

The Prime Minister found himself in trouble yesterday when it emerged that the top Treasury official had warned against attributing labor tax policy costs that were partly based on Conservative Party estimates to civil servants.

In a general election debate on Tuesday, Sunak said: “Independent Treasury officials have cost Labour’s policies which amount to a £2,000 tax increase for every working family.”

But a letter from permanent Chancellor of the Exchequer James Bowler, made public yesterday, made it clear that “civil servants were not involved in the production or presentation” of the figures Sunak was referring to.

Bowler said he had “reminded ministers and advisers” that “costs derived from other sources or produced by other organizations should not be presented as if they were produced by the civil service”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today On this morning’s programme, Sir Robert Chote, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said the row highlighted the need for politicians to use statistics transparently in the run-up to the election.

“If you’re going to make high-profile numerical statements about things, it’s a good idea to clearly define what you’re talking about and what you’re trying to measure,” he said.

“You have to say how you calculated the numbers, you have to identify the source where the underlying numbers, the underlying data, come from. You have to explain to people what confidence they can have in it and what uncertainties may lie around it. And especially in cases where you’re distilling a bunch of complicated analysis into a single number or sound bite, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself: Would the average person on the street hearing this song have a realistic chance of understanding what it means? means? means, what its meaning is, without having to hand them eight pages of explanatory material?”

Chote added: “In this situation the Prime Minister actually said or implied that this was fully signed by the Ministry of Finance – the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance himself said that was not the case. And it is clear that questioning this is not good for general trust in the dialogue and debate as a whole.”

He said there are two issues under discussion: whether the £2,000 figure is correct, and whether Sunak was right to attribute this to Treasury officials. The first topic is that political parties “must have a political debate,” he said.

“It’s certainly not our job to check the numbers… But if people get the wrong idea about the trust, the independent verification that’s behind this, that’s not a good place to be,” he added.

Chote’s comments come shortly after he urged political leaders to commit to “ensuring appropriate and transparent use of statistics” in their general election campaigns.

In a letter this week, Chote called on political party leaders to adhere to the UKSA principles of “intelligent transparency” and use statistics to “increase understanding of the issues being debated and not be used in a manner that could potentially be misleading’. .

“We will be prepared to publicly highlight where statements are based on statistics and data that have not been published or are presented in a misleading manner,” he warned.

“Bad precedent”

Since Bowler’s letter was made public yesterday, several commentators have criticized the convention – which dates back to 1955 – asking officials to damage the policies of opposition parties.

Chote said his view is that “this was a bad precedent when it started and we would be much better off without it because it confuses the picture.”

“It puts the Treasury Department in a very difficult position because their officials are effectively being held accountable for numbers that are driven in part by political bias,” he said.

“Both the advisers and the Treasury have adhered to this rule book, which has been around for a long time, but I think it’s a rule book we could probably do without,” he added.

Starmer: Sunak broke ministerial code

Yesterday Keir Starmer said Sunak’s claim that Labor would increase taxes by more than £2,000 if it wins the general election amounts to a breach of the ministerial code.

The Labor leader told LBC: “He broke the ministerial code because he deliberately lied.

“We have made it clear that our plans are fully budgeted and funded, and that they do not involve tax increases for working people – so that is no income tax increase, no national insurance increase, no VAT increase,” he added to.

“And the Prime Minister, with his back against the wall, desperately trying to defend his terrible record in office, resorted to lies and he knew what he was doing, he knew very well what he was doing.”

In response to Starmer’s comments, a Conservative Party spokesperson said: “This is a man who has broken every promise he has ever made. It is now up to him to explain whether he has abandoned his policies again or plans to break his own budget rules.”

They added that Starmer had claimed during the ITV battle that a mental health policy included in costs was not a Labor Party policy “despite publicly committing to it only five weeks ago had connected”.

“The costs provided for this policy are the Treasury Department’s lowest estimate and available on their website,” they said.

“If he becomes Prime Minister, he won’t be able to just shout lies when faced with the reality that he has to find £2,094 in tax per working household to fill his black hole.”