Government blocked from using Treasury to attack Labour spending plans

Ben Gartside
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, left, walks with Chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid during the state opening of parliament at Westminster Palace in London on 14 October. Photo: Jack Hill/Reuters

UK’s cabinet secretary has blocked the use of civil service to scrutinise Labour’s spending plans after shadow chancellor John McDonnell reportedly complained it amounted to abuse of power and breached impartiality rules.

Mark Sedwill ruled that publication of the calculations and costings by the Treasury only weeks ahead of general election would be improper, according to a report in the Guardian. It quotes a government source saying the cabinet secretary blocked the documents being released after a last-minute call with McDonnell who raised concerns about the civil service being used for political means.

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McDonnell accused the Conservative party of using government departments to speculate on Labour’s spending plans in a blatant display of abuse of power hours before general election campaign officially kicks off.

Shadow business minister Bill Esterton told Yahoo Finance UK that “trying to hijack the civil service for political purposes just shows further that Johnson and his Tories are totally unfit to govern and unfit to lead.”

A Labour source added: “This is an embarrassing slapdown to Tory ministers who were blatantly trying to use the civil service for political purposes.”

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McDonnell had called Sir Tom Scholar, the most senior civil servant in the Treasury, to block the planned launch of the costings over concerns about the civil service’s use for political ends.

Labour’s policy stand on the economy and some of its recent announcements have already faced criticism. This week the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank, said the four-day week proposal announced by McDonnell in September would cost the taxpayers £17bn. McDonnell had told the Labour conference that the party has a long-term plan to reduce the working hours to 32 per week, which could fit in a four-day working week.

Labour’s nationalisation policy plans have also been attacked. The Confederation of British Industries said it would cost almost £200bn. The CBI was later criticised for its cost analysis.