UK government choice to run budget watchdog says he knows 'where the bodies are buried'

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government’s nominee to run the country’s influential budget watchdog said on Monday his former career at the finance ministry did not mean he would seek to muzzle the body and he would act with independence in the job.

“Poachers sometimes make the best gamekeepers,” Hughes said in a question-and-answer session with lawmakers who are considering whether to approve his appointment as chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

“We know how existing practices work, we know where the bodies are buried, and I think we sometimes do the best job of unearthing them.”

Pressed on whether he would challenge the Treasury, Hughes said he had worked on analysis on the economic costs of Brexit which were not welcome reading for Downing Street, and had challenged the government in his current role as a researcher at the Resolution Foundation think tank.

Hughes also said he there was a greater risk that inflation would fall as a result of the coronavirus crisis rather than be higher than expected.

He said it was wrong to think the government might try to bring down its soaring debts by allowing inflation to run higher, because around a third of public debt in Britain is inflation-linked.

Hughes said there were signs that the slump in economic activity in Britain might be less severe than the OBR’s original estimates, but said there was a long way to go for Britain to recover the 25% of economic output which it lost in March and April.

Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Andy Bruce and David Milliken