Donors lose faith in Tories: Corporate donations, the party's biggest source of funds, are drying up, write Tim Kelsey and Chris Blackhurst

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The Independent Online
SOME of the largest companies in Britain, formerly the most loyal Conservatives supporters, have turned their back on the party financially.

Former and present senior party workers, to whom the Independent has spoken, have attacked managers for falsely claiming financial health while the party enters a period of unprecedented uncertainty over donations.

Corporate donations are by far the Tories' largest source of funds. In the past, they have done well from British business, But in the last financial year, support has slumped among some of its oldest and wealthiest sponsors as confidence in the Government's performance falls.

Recent company accounts disclose:

Taylor Woodrow has cut its donation from pounds 124,500 for the year ending 1992 to pounds 5,000 in the last financial year;

Reckitt & Colman, which gave pounds 30,000 in 1992-93 has stopped giving;

United Biscuits has dropped its donation from pounds 130,000 to pounds 40,000;

Allied Lyons, which gave pounds 40,000 in February 1993, has stopped donating;

Tarmac has halved its contribution to pounds 12,500;

Thames Water gave pounds 50,000 in 1992 but has given nothing since;

United Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Express and Sunday Express, cut its contribution from pounds 41,000 in December 1992 to pounds 34,000 the following year;

Provident Financial gave pounds 20,000 in December 1992 but nothing since;

Willis Corroon, the insurance group, has cut its donation from pounds 40,000 in December 1992 to zero;

Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust gave pounds 25,000 in December 1992, but halved that this year.

A few traditional large donors have maintained the level of their contribution. John Menzies has donated pounds 12,500 in each of the past two years. Guardian Royal Exchange continues to give pounds 35,000 each year. A GRE spokesman said: 'We take a long-term view. The directors feel it is their responsibility to secure the optimum environment for shareholders.

'The directors believe they will get a better return from a Tory government. We are not affected by short-term unpopularity.'

Inquiries show that falling support from big blue-chip companies is not the only source of financial worry.

Confidential briefing papers show that Team 1000, the party's much- vaunted promotional push designed to attract smaller donors, has not matched expectations. The Central Office documents talk of 'the excessive cost of the operation' and overheads of 40 per cent of the money raised. A former director of the party's board of finance, Major-General Sir Brian Wyldbore-Smith, described the initiative as a 'gimmick' which 'does not solve anything'.

The internal briefing report on the 1992/93 funding performance shows that direct marketing raised only pounds 700,000.

The British United Industrialists (BUI) - a front for Tory corporate funding during the past two decades - has been dissolved. Most of its contributors were Scottish companies, many of which have since stopped donating to the party.

One firm, McFarlane Group (Clansman), which gave money to BUI before its dissolution, has in the past financial year given pounds 5,000 to another organisation called the Fund for Free Enterprise. Lord McFarlane, the company chairman, said he was unable to give details of this fund but added that the donation was destined for the Tory party. This fund is not channelling large amounts of money to the Tories. Other former BUI donors who continue to donate, including John Menzies, now do so direct to the party.

Constituencies that traditionally gave cash are increasingly switching to making interest-free loans - so uncertain are they of their and the party's ability to raise money in the future. A recently departed member of the Conservative board of finance said that in 1993-94, straight constituency donations fell from pounds 1m to pounds 700,000 but loans rose by pounds 800,000.

Cash support from the Tory heartlands is wilting. In 1991-92, the Wessex area, traditionally supportive, gave pounds 250,000. Last year, the region donated pounds 120,000.

So strong is the level of apathy and unwillingness of supporters to rally round, that one Midlands MP with a majority of almost 20,000 recently had to buy a fax machine for the constituency association office out of his own pocket, despite repeated requests for help.

Neither is the party receiving any direct assistance from the Royal Bank of Scotland, which holds the overdraft. Contrary to press reports of preferential charges, a former fund-raiser said that when he left, the bank was claiming interest at a non-favourable 2.5 per cent over base rate.

The bank does, however, show some sympathy by allowing the party to run up such a large overdraft, almost all of which is unsecured. The value of Central Office headquarters in Smith Square was, at its best, about pounds 12m. But its worth has since slumped to about pounds 4m.

Former and current party officials have said that no large individual donation (more than pounds 1m) has been received by the Conservative Party recently.

And a former fund-raiser insisted that foreign donations were a very small source of funds - no more than 10 per cent a year. Hong Kong has been identified as a possible source of donations in recent reports.

But the former official said that, in total, donations from the colony had amounted to no more than pounds 500,000 in previous years.

One former official blamed the Prime Minister for failing to take a personal interest in the party's finances. 'Mrs Thatcher took a much closer interest. Major does not want to know the nitty-gritty. His interest and his capacity are simply not there.'

(Photograph omitted)

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