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Osborne Accepts Call to Stop Pre-Briefing on U.K. Budget

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne leaves 11 Downing street to attend a Parliamentary Treasury Committee in London. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne accepted a recommendation that the Treasury should ban the pre-briefing of details from the annual budget and end-of-year statement following a review.

A report by the Treasury’s permanent secretary, Nick Macpherson, said the appearance of details of the March 2013 budget on a picture of the London Evening Standard’s front page posted on Twitter before they had been announced to lawmakers by Osborne was the result of a loss of control over the timing of publication by the department.

“I recommend that the Treasury introduces a ban on the pre-release of the core of the budget (and autumn statement),” Macpherson said in the report published in London today. “That is: the economic and fiscal projections, the fiscal judgment and individual tax rates, reliefs and allowances.” Osborne told a panel of lawmakers today he accepts the proposal “in full.”

The Standard has traditionally been briefed on the content of the budget in order to fit in with print deadlines for its afternoon edition, on the condition that it only publishes after the chancellor has given details of the budget to the House of Commons.

“On this occasion the arrangements were not effective in ensuring that information was not released ahead of the chancellor’s speech,” Macpherson said. “The Evening Standard, having received prior information as to the content of the budget, prepared its edition. Its usual practice is to publish its front page electronically via Twitter ahead of physical copies being available in the afternoon. It appears that due to error this electronic publication was not delayed and so went into the public domain before the chancellor’s speech.”

Budget details released early included growth forecasts, details of fuel and alcohol duties and changes to income tax and public-sector pay.

Osborne told Parliament’s Treasury Committee today the ban is intended to avoid “a repeat of what happened this year, for which I have apologized.”

Pre-releasing budget details is “not sensible” and that’s why the government “has gone for the belt-and-braces approach of this ban,” he said.

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