MPs accused of 'back-door party funding'

Public money is going into local political coffers when office space is rented from constituencies

Parliament's expenses watchdog is to name scores of MPs who are channelling thousands of pounds of public money into their own party coffers, amid complaints that the practice amounts to "back-door party funding". The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is planning to publish details of more than 160 MPs who rent office space or administrative services from their local constituency party, as part of its campaign to crack down on the abuse of expenses regulations.

The amount of taxpayers' money finding its way to local parties has now soared beyond £1m a year.

The standards authority, having noted the "potential for a conflict of interests", is considering banning the practice and providing all MPs with office space in local council buildings instead.

An Independent on Sunday investigation has identified dozens of MPs, including Nick Clegg, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling, who pay their local parties thousands of pounds a year for offices or secretarial help. The MPs insist the arrangements are within the rules, claiming the deals represent a cost-effective method of maintaining a presence in their local area, as renting from their party colleagues is usually cheaper than the open market.

Critics claim the contracts in effect subsidise local party organisations which would otherwise struggle to balance their books. Constituency parties often use the expenses money to fund staff members who are shared with the MP.

Senior Tory MP Bernard Jenkin made an unsuccessful attempt to urge Parliament's standards watchdog to "abolish" the practice, stating: "There must be no impression that parliamentary expenses are being used as back-door funding for political parties."

The little-noticed funding stream was among practices targeted by the IPSA when it took over responsibility for MPs' allowances after the expenses scandal of 2009. The watchdog began forcing MPs to produce an independent valuation of the local party offices "which demonstrates that the MP is not paying higher than the market rent". The IoS understands that details of the contracts will be disclosed as part of a wider publication of MPs' office expenses.

But the IPSA is planning a more drastic solution. The authority's blueprint for a fairer expenses system states: "In the longer term, we are giving thought to a system in which the largest local authority within each constituency would provide an MP's office and basic equipment, with a standard reimbursement from IPSA." A former Conservative MP told The IoS that local party officials "directed" him to claim the money on his first day in Parliament. "They saw it as 'theirs'," he said. "It was a way of supplementing their income."

An analysis of annual accounts from hundreds of local constituency parties has revealed that the Lib Dems in Mr Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency reported that the Deputy Prime Minister paid them £8,700 for "office space sublet to MP" in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's contribution to his local Conservative Association in Chingford was £19,474 "to cover costs in providing for his constituency duties", while in Epsom and Ewell, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's local party recorded £3,693 in "payments from MP for non-political services".

The value of the MPs' contributions was underlined in Central Devon, where the local Tory party's 2010 annual return reported: "This year has seen a slight fall in our income, mainly due to lower fundraising activities. Later in the year, the MP started to contribute 40 per cent towards our office expenses, thus improving our cash position."

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "There is something rather unseemly about MPs paying for office space or other facilities within the premises of their own local political party or association: it blurs the lines between their parliamentary duties and party political activities in a way that is very difficult to police."

A spokesman for the pressure group Unlock Democracy said the group was concerned about the long-term viability of funding parties at a local level. But he added: "We agree that the current set-up is unsatisfactory, not simply because it gives the impression of back-door funding for parties but because it also provides the incumbent MP's party an unfair advantage over their rivals."

Romford Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, who paid up to £3,000 to his local party, said: "In my case, I have no choice, as renting commercial premises in my constituency would be far too costly. If I did not share offices and facilities from my local association, it is most likely that I would not have a constituency office at all."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital