Fraser Nelson

The public’s right to know

The public's right to know
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The Treasury have just banned transcripts of the all-important briefing they give to journalists after the budget. Coffee House broke the mould after the April budget by producing the first-ever transcript – releasing to the public the spin which journalists are given in the precious few hours they have to write up the Budget. This shows how journalists were wrongly told that there were no spending cuts, when there were in fact cuts of 7 percent over three years.

Here is an example of their misleading briefing last year

Q: Why are you cutting spending by more?

A: By more? (quizzical look on his face)

Q: Well not reducing the rate of growth by more than you are.  It is not that big a reduction given the scale of the problems you are facing.

A: We have taken on board the efficiency reports that were published yesterday which set out the scales of efficiencies that should be deliverable and we’ve made and assessed a judgement on the growth of spending in the light of that report and clearly we want to maintain real growth in public spending, which this does, 0.7 a year and no doubt when it comes to providing detailed plans for the next spending review period the government will need to demonstrate that it is still allocating resources to its priorities.

The IFS found the cuts hidden in the small print the next day, as CoffeeHouse reported. I challenged Brown about it at a press conference (YouTube here). We produced a table for these cuts (below).

But not a single newspaper noticed the cuts that day - not surprising, after they were explicitly told there hadn't been any cuts. This is the basis of the great Budget game under Labour: the joy of leading journalists on a wrong scent (remember the 2p tax cut, which hid the abolition of the 10p tax rate?), knowing that have four hours max to read, digest, and then offer final judgement on this complex piece of economics. The media is never more susceptible to spin than it is between 1pm and 5pm on Budget day.

My point: that it is within the public interest to release the transcript, to shed light on how the Treasury communicates with the public whose money they are spending. Their decision to not allow a transcript of this year's briefing to be released hardly inspires confidence.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.