Statistics watchdog criticises Conservative claim that Labour would raise taxes by £2,000

6 June 2024, 21:41 | Updated: 6 June 2024, 21:43

Rishi Sunak's comments have been criticised
Rishi Sunak's comments have been criticised. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The UK’s official statistics regulator has criticised the Conservatives for a claim that Labour would hike taxes by £2,000.

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The Tories have made the claim repeatedly this week, starting with Rishi Sunak during his debate with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Tuesday evening.

Labour have disputed the claim, with Keir Starmer accusing Mr Sunak of breaking the ministerial code.

And the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) said on Thursday that anyone who was unfamiliar with the context would not understand that the figure cited by the Conservatives is "an estimate summed together over four years".

They added: "We warned against this practice a few days ago, following its use in presenting prospective future increases in defence spending."

Read more: Rishi Sunak ‘breached ministerial code’ over Labour tax hike claim in leaders’ debate, Keir Starmer tells LBC

Read more: Jeremy Hunt challenges Keir Starmer not to raise property taxes as row over public finances rumbles on

Starmer calls Sunak a liar over Labour tax plans

During the televised debate, Mr Sunak said that the figures had been produced by independent Treasury officials.

But the OSR referred to a letter from a Treasury official who warned that figures “derived from other sources or produced by other organisations [and] should not be presented as having been produced by the Civil Service"

The OSR said: "Abiding by intelligent transparency is in the interests of all party campaigners themselves and not just the public.

"It will avoid the need for subsequent clarifications and corrections and will help build and maintain trust in their claims and statistics overall."

'This £2000 figure is robust', says Mel Stride

During Tuesday's debate, the Prime Minister repeatedly accused Labour of planning to hike taxes for the average household by £2,000, claiming that analysis showed Labour has a £38.5bn blackhole in its spending plans.

But Sir Keir dismissed the claim as “garbage”, with other shadow ministers also criticising the use of the figure.

Since the debate, Labour and several other bodies have also criticised the figure.

Follow the LBC live General Election blog for all the twists and turns of the campaign train and listen live to LBC on Global Player, our official app

Officials are looking into claims about tax made by Rishi Sunak.
Officials are looking into claims about tax made by Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

After the debate, in a letter to the Labour Party, Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler said that the figure “includes costs beyond those provided by the civil service and published online by HM Treasury”.

He continued: “I agree that any costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service.

“I have reminded ministers and advisers that this should be the case.”

He stressed that the Treasury was “not involved in the production of presentation of the Conservative Party’s document ‘Labour’s Tax Rises’ or the calculation of the total figure used”.

Keir Starmer dismissed the claims as 'garbage'.
Keir Starmer dismissed the claims as 'garbage'. Picture: Alamy

On Wednesday, Martin Lewis also pushed Cabinet minister Claire Coutinho to apologise live on TV over the allegation thrown at Labour.

Mr Lewis quizzed Ms Coutinho on the letter from Mr Bowler as it emerged on Wednesday, as he pushed her to apologise, he said: “That is a slap down from the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.

“You have been on television elsewhere this morning defending this, and saying these are Civil Service numbers and that they were not by political advisers, is it time to apologise?”

But Ms Coutinho refused, as she replied: “No absolutely not.

“What the letter says is that you can look on gov.uk and costings are done by Government departments, the Treasury, and those are official costings.”

Mr Lewis again insisted that the figure should not have been used and said it had come from the Civil Service.

Ms Coutinho again replied: “People can look online. There is an official document on gov.uk which has been costed by Treasury officials which the letter confirms.

“And as I can say as someone who used to work in the Treasury, Treasury officials do not sign off dodgy numbers. They are very smart people, they are independent, impartial civil servants.”

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