Economic 'big thinkers' named to chair new fiscal oversight bodies

Sir Robert Chote has been appointed to chair the new independent Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A FORMER chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), once described as "the man who checks the Chancellor's maths", has been appointed to head up the new independent Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland.

The oversight body has been created by finance minister Conor Murphy to critically examine Stormont's budget process, how its departments allocate funding and to bring clarity to how the Executive manages its money.

A separate Fiscal Commission has also been set up, similar to that in the other devolved administrations, which will a lead a review of taxation powers.

The bodies were due to have been established by last summer under the terms of the Fresh Start Agreement, but their formation was delayed owning to the Covid pandemic.

The Fiscal Council will be chaired by financial heavyweight and big thinker Sir Robert Chote, who as well as chairing the OBR for the last decade, also chairs the external advisory group of the Irish Parliamentary Budget Office.

Indeed such his expertise that Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey described him as "a fiscal galactico", adding that, for Stormont, it is"like Glentoran signing Lionel Messi or Ronaldo".

Professor Alan Barrett, who heads up the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, is also on the board of the Council alongside local economists Esmond Birnie and Maureen O'Reilly.

Leading the Fiscal Commission is Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

He will be supported by Iain McLean, Professor of Politics at Oxford University (and a renowed Barnett formula expert), Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, deputy vice-chancellor at University of Ulster, and Dr Lisa Wilson senior economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

“The establishment of these bodies represents a real step forward for the public finances," Mr Murphy said.

“Putting the Fiscal Council in place will bring greater transparency and independent scrutiny to the Executive's finances. It will be a stand-alone and permanent body, focussing initially on the Executive's draft 2021-2022 Budget.”

He added: “I am delighted that we have such outstanding chairs and members for both the Council and Commission. They will bring significant experience in economics, public finances and fiscal matters to these important pieces of work.”

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