Whitehall’s spending watchdog could investigate the deal to keep Nissan making cars in north-east England, following a demand from the chair of an influential parliamentary committee. Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Treasury select committee, has written to the National Audit Office (NAO) asking for an inquiry into any assurances offered by the government to the Japanese car giant. If follows a refusal by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to say how much the commitments made to Nissan would add to the public finances and will increase pressure on the government to give the details of any deal. Tyrie said on Thursday he had written to Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, asking for auditors to get to the bottom of whether it might cost the taxpayer money. “The chancellor has not answered the crucial question: whether an assurance was given to Nissan which could constitute a contingent liability, or support consistent with the provisions of the Industrial Development Act 1982. “So I have written to Sir Amyas, asking him to examine whether contingent liabilities have arisen as a result of government commitments, and/or assurances made to Nissan,” he said. In October, Nissan said it was extending the production of two new vehicles in Sunderland amid rising speculation that it could leave the UK following the country’s decision to quit the European Union.
The move secured 7,000 jobs in the Brexit-backing city, but prompted questions over whether a so-called “sweetheart deal” had been struck between the carmaker and the government. The chancellor said promises made to the Japanese firm avoided weighing down the Treasury with significant extra subsidies in the wake of the Brexit vote. But in a letter to Tyrie, he refused to elaborate, saying only that any subsidies were “entirely within state aid and WTO rules”. The government has refused to disclose to the Office for Budget Responsibility whether it made any financial promises to Nissan ahead of the autumn statement. The OBR’s economic outlook report, released alongside the mini-budget, revealed that the fiscal watchdog “asked specifically whether any contingent liabilities had been created in respect of assurances provided to Nissan” and that the Treasury declined to say. A spokesman for the NAO said a response would be released in due course.