The chair of the fiscal responsibility watchdog has described the Government's spending plans beyond 2025 as 'worse than fiction' - pouring cold water on hopes of a local roads boost.
Last week, Richard Hughes, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee: ‘The Government did a spending review setting out detailed departmental plans for the year until 31 March 2025. Beyond that, we know virtually nothing. It is just two numbers – one for total current spending and one for total capital spending by department.
‘Some people have referred to that as a work of fiction. That is probably generous, given that someone has bothered to write a work of fiction, whereas the Government have not even bothered to write down their departmental spending plans underpinning their plans for public services.’
Among the post-2025 spending plans is an £8.3bn package for local roads, which ministers said would represent ‘an increase of around two-thirds in support for local roads’.
The Department for Transport (DfT) told Highways that while it expects this cash to be ‘truly additional…all funding decisions are a matter for HM Treasury’.
Although the DfT has published indicative information for ‘additional’ funding up to 2033-34, it has not disclosed core funding beyond the current Parliament and has therefore not stated what amount this funding is ‘additional’ to.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), which monitors public bodies’ use of statistics, told Highways that it is unclear how the DfT’s claim that the ‘additional’ funding ‘will represent an increase of around two-thirds in DfT support for local roads’.
‘We have raised this concern with DfT,' it said.
In its regulatory guidance on statements about public funding, the OSR states that figures used should be ‘clearly labelled as being in cash terms or real terms’.
It adds: ‘It is generally more helpful to make public funding statements in real terms to understand the impact on funding levels felt by public services on the ground.’
A DfT spokesperson said that the cash will be ‘in addition to what local authorities were expecting in future’ and pointed to current funding of levels for councils.
The DfT appears to assume in its calculation that current levels would be frozen over the next 11 years, meaning the cash would be eaten into by rising costs.