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
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD : Randstad Education So...

Credit Controller (Sales Ledger, SAGE)- London, Old Street

£12 per hour: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street A well es...

Y4 Teacher - Leicester

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: We are currently recruiting ...

VMware Infrastructure Engineer - (VCP, VMware) - £45k, London

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Infrastructure Engineer, VMware (VCP, NetApp,...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor