Liz Truss will meet the head of the UK’s independent fiscal watchdog today after a powerful group of cross-party MPs demanded the chancellor release a full economic forecast by the end of October – a month earlier than planned.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng will join the prime minister as they meet the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Richard Hughes before they are handed a first draft of its full fiscal forecasts next week.
The Treasury confirmed to Sky News the meeting is happening but would not comment on the fact it is highly unusual for a PM to attend an OBR meeting.
They also denied it was an emergency meeting.
A Treasury spokesman said: “We are committed to working with the OBR.”
The news that the pair will be having a meeting with the OBR came just hours after the Treasury Select Committee, made up of MPs from all parties, demanded Mr Kwarteng release a full economic forecast from the OBR by the end of October and bring forward his medium-term budget from 23 November.
Mel Stride, Tory chair of the committee, had said in his letter to the chancellor it is “hard to conclude other than that an absence of a forecast has in some part driven the lack of confidence in markets”.
He added: “Some have formed the unfortunate impression that the government may be seeking to avoid scrutiny, possibly on account of expecting the OBR forecast to be unsupportive of the achievement of the economic outcomes the government expects from the Growth Plan, including 2.5% trend growth in the medium term.”
Mr Kwarteng had said the forecast would be released on 23 November but after last Friday’s mini-budget caused economic turmoil for the UK, the committee discovered the chancellor will be getting an initial OBR forecast on 7 October.
They asked him to publish “without delay” the initial economic and fiscal forecast the OBR provided to him when he started the job a few weeks ago.
A reply from the chancellor has been requested for no later than Monday.
Mr Stride also expressed frustration in his letter at having pressed Mr Kwarteng and his predecessor Nadhim Zahawi to publish an OBR forecast before the mini-budget and said the OBR had assured him on 26 August they could produce a forecast to that timescale and had already been working on it for a month.
“The OBR was standing by ready to provide a meaningful forecast alongside the 23 September statement had the Treasury requested it. No such request was received,” Mr Stride said.
Mr Stride said he was pleased to see the OBR meeting happening.
“The PM and the chancellor must use this meeting as a reset moment – an opportunity to urgently bring forward the OBR forecast incorporating credible new fiscal rules and a plan which the OBR assesses as having a good chance of meeting them.
“Then we can all take a deep breath and start to move forward with greater confidence.”
The senior Tory told Sky News’ Daily Podcast earlier on Thursday: “Many colleagues are very concerned, and I think that’s totally unsurprising.
“I mean, I can speak for myself. I’m on the record as saying that I think if we’re not very careful, then our position as being the party of sound money and economic responsibility, fiscal responsibility, may be in jeopardy.”
He added that he did not think it was incompetence that caused the current problems and suspects “some of those involved have been taken slightly by surprise how quickly the markets turned” but he thinks publishing an OBR forecast would be central to calming the markets by “demonstrating credibility”.
Liz Truss and Mr Kwarteng have today been defending the mini-budget, with the prime minister insisting the government took “decisive action” that will aid growth.
The chancellor said the plan is aimed at “protecting people right across the country” and was “absolutely essential” for growth.
Sam Bankman-Fried: Founder of bankrupt crypto firm FTX breaks his silence, with thousands locked out of savings
A crypto entrepreneur says his net worth has fallen from $26.5bn to $100,000 after his company imploded.
Sam Bankman-Fried admitted it has been a “bad month” after FTX collapsed into bankruptcy, leaving thousands of people frozen out of their savings.
The 30-year-old – who once positioned himself as a saviour for stricken firms – has been accused of misusing customer funds and moving $10bn out of the company in secret.
To make matters worse, reports suggest that at least $1bn has vanished.
But speaking at the New York Times’ DealBook summit, he insisted that he has never tried to commit fraud, and said he was “shocked” at how things unfolded.
FTX now has fresh management as it navigates bankruptcy, with its new CEO declaring that he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls” during his 40-year career.
It has been claimed that funds belonging to FTX users was mixed with funds at Alameda Research, a trading firm that Bankman-Fried also ran.
FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that operated around the world, collapsed as panicked traders pulled $6bn out of the company in just three days after a series of bombshell allegations.
Speaking via video link from the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried said he now has “close to nothing” following his company’s failure – and is down to one working credit card.
He has admitted that his businesses “completely failed” when it came to risk management, and said this was “pretty embarrassing in retrospect”.
“Whatever happened, why it happened, I had a duty to our stakeholders, our customers, our investors, the regulators of the world, to do right by them,” Bankman Fried added.
While the embattled entrepreneur believes that American users should be able to get their money back in full, Bankman-Fried has warned in other interviews that international customers may only get 20% to 25% of the money they had locked into FTX.
A number of companies in the cryptocurrency sector have collapsed in recent months, coinciding with a sharp drop in the value of Bitcoin.
Some businesses have been accused of offering interest rates on savings that were simply too good to be true, while others have been likened to “Ponzi schemes”.
The Bahamas has now launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding FTX’s demise.
HSBC to close dozens more bank branches
HSBC has announced plans to shut a further 114 UK branches – over a quarter of its surviving sites.
The UK-based but mainly Asia-focused bank said those affected would be shut from April next year.
The decision, as the wider banking sector has consistently claimed over many years, is the result of the surge in online banking.
It has led to declining demand for over-the-counter transactions with HSBC saying that some of those to be shut were dealing with fewer than 250 people per week.
It was unclear, at this stage, what the closures would mean for jobs.
The bank said it was to invest tens of millions of pounds in updating and improving its remaining branch network, which will total 327 once the closures have been completed.
Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s managing director of UK distribution, said: “People are changing the way they bank and footfall in many branches is at an all-time low, with no signs of it returning. Banking remotely is becoming the norm for the vast majority of us.
“The decision to close a branch is never easy or taken lightly, especially if we are the last branch in an area, so we’ve invested heavily in our ‘post-closure’ strategy, including providing free tablet devices to selected branch customers who do not already have a device to bank digitally, alongside one-to-one coaching to help them migrate to digital banking.”
Joules administrator on brink of rescue deal with Phase Eight-owner Foschini
The administrator to Joules, the collapsed fashion retailer, is on the brink of a rescue deal with the South African owner of Phase Eight.
Sky News has learnt that The Foschini Group (TFG) is close to securing an agreement to buy the majority of Joules’ stores and assets.
One source said a deal could be struck as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
If completed, it is likely to see roughly a quarter of Joules’ 132 shops closed, with the loss of “several hundred” jobs.
A more precise figure for store closures and redundancies could not be identified, with Interpath Advisory, the administrator, refusing to comment.
It remains possible that an alternative buyer such as Next or Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group could yet trump TFG’s interest with a last-ditch offer.
TFG, which also owns the women’s fashion brands Hobbs and Whistles, had been in discussions with Joules for several weeks about investing in the business prior to it calling in administrators this month.
Based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, Joules operates a total of 132 stores across the UK, employing over 1,600 people.
Its stores have remained open during the administration process.
Will Wright, head of restructuring at Interpath and joint administrator, said earlier this month that Joules was “one of the most recognisable names on the high street, with a unique brand identity and loyal customer base”.
“We have had an overwhelming amount of interest from interested parties.
“We will be working hard over the days ahead to assess this interest, but at this stage we are optimistic that we will be able to secure a future for this great British brand.”
Joules had been in talks with Next about a strategic investment earlier in the autumn but the two sides were unable to agree the terms of a deal as the smaller company’s share price continued to sink.
It then hired Interpath to consider an insolvency procedure – known as a company voluntary arrangement – that would have allowed it to slash its overheads through store closures, rent reductions and job cuts.
Joules said in August that it was aiming to secure an equity investment of about £15m, after warning that it would deliver a loss bigger than previous market expectations.
It also appointed Jonathon Brown, a former John Lewis and Kingfisher executive, as its new CEO.
Joules has been listed on the London stock market since 2016, having been founded in 1989 when Tom Joule began selling clothes from a country show stall in Leicestershire.
TFG could not be reached for comment.
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