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Official says Tory tax claim wasn’t produced by civil service

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Henry Zeffman,Chief political correspondent

Sunak and Starmer clash over taxes and economy

The top Treasury civil servant has said the Conservatives’ assessment of Labour’s tax plans “should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service”.

In a letter to the Labour Party two days ago, seen by the BBC, Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler said the calculation of £38bn of uncosted spending used by the Tories “includes costs beyond those provided by the civil service”.

The letter risks undermining Rishi Sunak’s claim in Tuesday evening’s head-to-head debate that Labour’s plans would mean £2,000 of tax rises per working household.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “slam dunk proof of Rishi Sunak’s big desperate lie”.

During the debate itself, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer dismissed the figures as “absolute garbage”.

Defending the claim, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told the BBC the figures were “official costings from the Treasury”, based on policies set out in Labour documents and signed off by the permanent secretary.

However, in a letter to Labour’s Darren Jones, Mr Bowler wrote: “As you will expect, civil servants were not involved in the production or presentation of the Conservative Party’s document ‘Labour’s Tax Rises’ or in the calculation of the total figure used … the £38bn figure used in the Conservative Party’s publication includes costs beyond those provided by the civil service.”

Mr Bowler added that he had reminded ministers and advisers that “any costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service”.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We were fair to Labour in the production of the Labour Tax rise briefing note and used only clear Labour policies, their own costings or official HMT [HM Treasury] costings using the lowest assumptions.”

Earlier Ms Coutinho told BBC Breakfast that if anything the Tory claim was “an underestimate”.

“These are brilliant independent civil servants and they would not be putting anything dodgy in there,” she said.

Former head of the civil service Lord O’Donnell wrote on X: “Getting civil servants to cost opposition polices in run up to election needs to stop. In past both parties have done it.

“It is an unsavoury practice as assumptions provided by special advisers are biased to make party political scoring points.”

During a head-to-head debate on ITV on Tuesday evening, Mr Sunak repeatedly claimed Labour’s spending plans would mean “£2,000 in higher taxes for every working family in our country”.

The Conservatives came up with the number based on how much they say Labour’s spending commitments would cost, dividing this by the number of UK households with at least one person working.

While Mr Sunak suggested the costings had been worked out by impartial civil servants, they are based on assumptions made by politically appointed special advisers.

The claim went unchallenged for about 20 minutes but Sir Keir later called it “nonsense”.

The £2,000 figure was first used by the Conservatives in an advertising campaign in May.

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