DFS chief leads Tory cash drive

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The Independent Online
Sir Graham Kirkham, who was appointed yesterday as senior treasurer of the Conservative Party, first gained national attention four years ago when he took pounds 5.5m of his pay from his own company, DFS Furniture, in the form of art and antiques, in order to avoid National Insurance contributions.

Lord Parkinson, chairman of the Conservative Party, said Sir Graham and his fellow treasurers, Michael Ashcroft, John Spurling and Lord Feldman, will be responsible for initiating, co-ordinating and increasing central fund raising.

Leading the drive to rebuild the Tory party coffers will be Sir Graham, a 52-year-old miner's son from Yorkshire. He propelled his family into the ranks of the super-rich in 1993 when he floated DFS Furniture on the stock market, pocketing more than pounds 130m in the process.

In the year before the float a company document revealed how much he was being paid in the form of art and antiques.

Asked at the time why he received so much of the sum in this way, the furniture magnate, who once described himself as a "tongue-tied Yorkshire pudding", had little to say.

It emerged that if Mr Kirkham liked a work of art then the company would buy it and give it to him as part of his salary. This was a variation on a common method for avoiding employers' National Insurance contributions. He is a passionate collector of art, spending on anything "from the 14th century onwards," he once said.

In the last couple of years Sir Graham has become one of the biggest financial backers of the Conservative Party. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, accused him last year of "buying" a knighthood through his donations, a suggestion Sir Graham laughed off.

Sir Graham, who left school at 15 with no `O' Levels, set up his own company making sofas, at the age of 23, in a disused billiard hall which once housed a brothel. The business, which was started with an investment of pounds 100, grew steadily and now has more than 40 stores.