Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Treasury PermSec, has fired the official starting gun on election season in a letter to Civil Service chief Sir Bob Kerslake. From now until May 2015, any government costing of an opposition policy will have to be signed off by the Treasury and pre-notification of the announcement will have to be given to Labour:
“I have personally committed to sign off all costings before they are provided to Ministers of Special Advisers for public use. Therefore, I would ask that the relevant permanent secretary’s office contact my office as soon as possible if officials in your department are commissioned to cost an opposition policy. They will be able to advise on the correct procedures to follow and the necessary clearances.
I have also made a personal commitment to the Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Chief Secretary to give them advance notice of the publication or release of any costing, in line with a similar agreement made to the Conservative party in 2009. This includes any briefing to the press or parliamentary questions. I take this personal commitment very seriously and therefore would ask that you also notify my office at the earliest opportunity if your department receives any FOI requests or Parliamentary Questions that could lead to the release of a costing. You should also be aware, and may wish to make your staff aware, that there are no exemptions under the FOI act which prevent us from releasing a completed opposition costing.”
Government SpAds are kicking off this afternoon, arguing that every time they brief the press about opposition’s spending plans they’re expected to phone up and seek civil service blessing. Though Treasury sources play down the significance of the move, suggesting that the Labour will simply be told it’s happening with no room for them to complain. It would help if they actually had some policies to cost…