In April 2014 Kevin Page, former Parliamentary Budget Officer for Canada and currently Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair at the University of Ottawa, was appointed by the non-executive members of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to carry out its first external review. This fulfils the legislative requirement that an external review is commissioned by the non-executive members at least every 5 years, to examine the content and quality of the reports published by the OBR.
Kevin Page’s review evaluates the OBR against its main duty to ‘examine and report on the sustainability of the public finances’ and its responsibility to carry out that duty ‘objectively, transparently and impartially’. It considers in particular the quality of the OBR’s main annual publications, the capacity and capability of its staff, and stakeholder confidence in the organisation.
The review concludes that the OBR is seen to be credible and independent, and that it has succeeded in reducing perceptions of bias in economic and fiscal forecasting. The quality of the OBR’s reports in terms of approach, rigour and transparency meet and often surpass international standards, and stakeholder confidence in the OBR is closely tied to the competence of its staff and senior leadership team.
The review also identifies a number of risks to the long-term sustainability of the OBR and makes 5 recommendations to support its continued success. They include:
- undertaking long-term succession planning for the eventual transition of the OBR leadership team
- introducing a fiscal community-wide staff development and rotation programme to maximise the talent pool from which the OBR can draw its analysts
- exercising caution in the expansion of the OBR’s mandate, particularly in light of its interdependence with government departments
- providing more material that increases the accessibility of OBR reports for non-technical readers
- surveying Parliamentarians to understand their perceptions and use of the OBR’s work