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  By Martin Kelly
A Scottish academic has criticised the forecasting record of the economics profession and specifically highlighted the poor record of the Office of Budget Responsibility.
Professor David Bell of Stirling University said: "The forecasting record of the economics profession in general is not good. The same can be said specifically about the forecasting record of the OBR.  We need to guard against seeing a forecasting body as a panacea for the uncertainties surrounding public finances."

The academic was commenting on plans to create a body specifically to carry out similar forecasting for Scotland.  The Scottish Government outlined plans earlier this year after the OBR was accused of downplaying Scotland’s economic potential.

According to the Scotsman newspaper, Professor Bell said such a body had to remain free of Scottish Government interference but cautioned that this would not guarantee accuracy.

The issue of Scotland's economic potential has led to disagreements over the accuracy of the OBR's figures with the spotlight falling on its tendency to downplay future oil and gas revenue.  Critics, including experts and industry figures, have challenged the gloomy outlook presented by the OBR.

Professor Bell, who is to give evidence to MSPs on Holyrood’s finance committee this week, added: "There could be a particular focus on forecasting North Sea oil revenues, which has proved controversial in the past,"

The OBR has not performed well since being set up by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne in 2010, getting key economic performance forecasts wrong. 

In March the OBR halved its own forecast for the UK economy in 2013 from 1.2% growth to 0.6%.  In 2012 the OBR had predicted UK growth would hit 2% in 2013.  This week the body is expected to revise its figures for this year yet again, from 0.6% it claimed in March to 1.4%.

Figures produced by the OBR have underpinned arguments by the No campaign against independence.  Unionists have claimed that its predictions on north sea oil revenue are proof that an independent Scotland would be worse off than if it was to remain in the Union.

OBR predictions have also been central to reports produced by other bodies such as the CPPR and the IFS.

Oil revenue remains at the centre of the independence debate.  The OBR has predicted oil tax revenue will drop from £6.7 billion last year to £4.1bn by 2017-18.

However industry figures have described OBR forecasts as pessimistic.

Speaking to Newsnet Scotland last December, respected oil economist Professor Alex Kemp challenged the OBR forecasts and said: "The OBR's combination of low production estimates with low price estimates is pessimistic compared with other predictions including our own."

In March Professor Kemp describing the OBR's revised forecasts as "contrary to the evidence from the industry."

Others to challenge OBR predictions included Chief Executive of Oil and Gas UK, Malcolm Webb who said that tax revenues from the sector can now be confidently expected to rise over the coming years.

Speaking to energy magazine 'Enterprising Energy' earlier this year, he said: "...the projects approved in 2011 and 2012 alone will over time produce more than two billion barrels of oil and gas, generate £100 billion value for the economy and an additional £25 billion in production taxes for the Exchequer."

Challenging claims that the sector is running down, Mr Webb added: "The North Sea oil and gas sector, contrary to what some sources say, still has a long productive life ahead of it; we estimate 50 years or more."

Further evidence of the huge revenue still to be extracted from Scotland's waters came in May when economists at the Paris based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast that the price of a barrel of oil will rise to between $150 and $270 throughout the coming decade.

The OECD envisaged a baseline value for a barrel of oil of $190 which, they said will lead to an independent Scotland benefiting to the tune of between £2.25 trillion and £4 trillion.

The Scottish government's own estimates, based on a conservative price for a barrel of oil of $100, suggests that there is at least £1.5 trillion worth of oil and gas still to be extracted.  The Scottish Government has estimated a figure of up to £57bn in tax revenue between now and 2018.

[Newsnet Scotland has great pleasure in announcing our first ever public discussion on independence.

Join Mark McNaught, George Kerevan and Mark Coburn tonight [Monday 2nd Dec] at the European Parliament Office, The Tun, 4 Jackson's Entry EH8 8PJ Edinburgh, from 6 pm to 8 pm.

The discussion - which will be filmed - follows on from the publication of the Scottish Government's Independence White Paper.

The event venue seats forty five people and audience participation is actively encouraged. Tickets are free and can be booked by clicking the link below.]



# call me dave 2013-12-02 11:34
Debunking Unionist myths and scares is becoming an everyday occurrence for the free thinkers.

Here's a timely addition to the debate:

and again.

Nothing to fear and the risk of staying with the Union is much higher.

OH!Just like buses they come along in threes
# Macart 2013-12-02 13:43
NIce catch. :)

I take it you caught the Huges Hallet interview?

If not, here you go. Its a beaut.
# call me dave 2013-12-02 14:34
Thanks for this.
Having listened to the general thrust I'm even less worried than the average bear, as Yogi used to say.

Seems that everything is within our compass and nought to fear.

Anyone at NNS know what's happened to Mr Bateman's blog?

Articles from 26th Nov have vanished. Has he moved on?

All gone now!
# X_Sticks 2013-12-02 14:50
That's very odd cmd, I wonder if Mr Bateman has been knobbled by the state or the state broadcaster?

Perhaps he has decided to write exclusively for NNS or some of the other pro-indy sites.

Damn! There were some good and useful comments on his blog, some of which I had bookmarked.

PS thanks again for all the great links you keep finding.
# tarbat 2013-12-02 15:18
Quoting call me dave:
Anyone at NNS know what's happened to Mr Bateman's blog?

He posted yesterday at

And today at
# call me dave 2013-12-02 17:11
Mr Bateman is back!

Thank goodness, every pro independence site is required in the run in to the referendum.
# UpSpake 2013-12-02 11:45
You can see it stick in the craw of the BBC when Douglas Fraser has to report on record investment in the North Sea and the prospect of on-going production well into this century and next day say that declining oil output and lower prices were fatal to an independent Scotland.
Lying and duplicity and the inability to say almost anything positive about Scotland is the hallmark of the BBC in Scotland. About as much use as the Gevernor General. Good News there, he is even more hopless in the job than his predecessor Moore who was hapless to say the least.
If this is the best that Better Together can do - Whoopee !.
# UpSpake 2013-12-02 12:03
If the OBR were a company, the product that they sell, forecasting, would have seen them out of business, a long time ago.
Their credibility, if they have any rests in their funding. Who pays the piper calls the tune.
That is why the SNP's call for an OBR in an independent Scotland, which I support, all depends upon how 'independent' they turn out to be and who funds them.
# theycantbeserious 2013-12-02 14:01
Let's not miss the point....self determination....the right to govern ourselves! For right or wrong, rich or poor, these are side issues and will be addressed.

At the end of the day it's not about what Westminster/OBR, the welsh first minister or the private finance sector and yes they will help or hinder the debate, but it's up to the people of Scotland to vote, as a country, on constitutional change.

We just happen to be oil, gas, education, life science, renewable energy, fishing, whisky, agriculturally, tourist, landscape/scenery, fresh water, great people, respect throughout the world rich...but that is just a bonus.

As a country are we not be best served by governing ourselves?
# Marga B 2013-12-02 17:40
OT, but Derek Bateman seems to have disappeared (both sites).

Not found. Author has deleted the site. No longer available.

Anyone know any more?
# call me dave 2013-12-02 17:50
Hi Marga B

see above posts. Blog renamed slightly.

Try this
# Marga B 2013-12-02 21:07
Thanks, Dave! Panicked then...
# wee e 2013-12-02 18:34
In 2012 the OBR had predicted UK growth would hit 2% in 2013. This week the body is expected to revise its figures for this year yet again, from 0.6% it claimed in March to 1.4%.

Should that be "down 0.6% from what it claimed"...?

[Admin - No. Article correct.]
# bringiton 2013-12-02 20:36
The Westminster establishment are going to regret not having taken up the offer of having fiscal autonomy on the ballot paper.
This would have allowed them to keep much of their dirty linen from public view.
However,now that it is all or nothing (Cameron's choice of a clear in/out,Yes/No option)then it is all going to have to be aired for the world to see.
Their dodgy accounting practices will be exposed in a way that was never intended.
Did anyone see Andrew Hughes-Hallet's eye brows shoot up when the BBC interviewer mentiond the IFS report which chose to use OBR supplied figures?
Not a good time to be associated with Westminster sponsored economic forecasts concerning Scotland.
# call me dave 2013-12-02 22:36
On line poll.

Celtic fringe all support a YES at the time of posting.
We'll see how it finishes.
# call me dave 2013-12-04 16:37
Is the North sea oil important?
Will the oil last 40 years?

Seems answers YES & YES.

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