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
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
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
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?