Budget Leaks Allegations Dismissed By George Osborne

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George Osborne was forced to defend suggestions that parts of his Budget had been leaked.
George Osborne was forced to defend suggestions that parts of his Budget had been leaked.

The Chancellor has fended off allegations that the many parts of his latest Budget had been leaked to the press beforehand.

Under questioning by the Treasury Select Committee, George Osborne admitted that "some parts of the budget were reported before I delivered it. I'm as angry as you are [about it]".

He gave a specific denial to MPs that "no Treasury officials, ministers or special advisers briefed before the Budget any specific information on tax rates, tax allowances or tax reliefs".

Osborne confessed that he had authorised the Treasury to brief the press about 100 year bonds. However, he claimed it wasn't a "Budget measure", adding "I don't regard it as part of Budget purdah".

The Chancellor made a nuanced admission of how the government deals with the press. He described plans for 100 year bonds as an "expression of intent", insisting that "general expressions of future government intent" were permissible to be briefed to the press.

"It is perfectly reasonable for the government to engage in conversations with media about the future direction of policy" he added. He mentioned, as an example, that he had openly talked about changes to planning policy "for the past year, and today the new planning framework has been announced".

Osborne noticeably squirmed when confronted with David Cameron's description of pre-budget leaks in 2008 as "completely reckless".

The Chancellor was keen to point to two new factors, as a tacit explanation for the leaks. The government, he said, has to prepare its Budget 10 days in advance so the OBR can scrutinise it. Also, Osborne blamed the nature of coalition.

"I have to engage two parties and ensure their consent, so that I can be confident that when its voted on, we'd have a majority. Many more people know in a coalition what's going to be a budget," he told the committee.

He was reluctant to admit directly that the coalition was to blame for the Budget leaks, insisting : "I genuinely don't know where these stories come from."

However, he later admitted "of course they emanante from the coalition".

Osborne distanced himself from a Glasgow Herald story that, quoting a Treasury source, confirmed before the Budget that tax reliefs for North Sea Oil would be protected. He suggested that their source would be the "lots of speculation" in the industry, as the government had been having continuous "discussions" about it.

He suggested that the government had "engaged with the press" on topics like North Sea Oil fields, and high end TV productions. Osborne defended it as part of his "consultative approach" with industries.

Treasury Permanent Secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson said he was confident that any leaks had not come from "Treasury sources". He added: "I have not initiated a leak inquiry inside the Treasury, the reason for that is because I do not have any prima facie that it came from inside the Treasury".

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