Tory donations outstrip those to Labour

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Indy Politics

Conservatives took in donations totalling more than £5m in the last three months of 2008 - almost twice the amount received by Labour - according to figures released today.

The statistics published by the Electoral Commission showed that over the course of the year, total donations to the Conservatives outstripped those to Labour by around £19m to £17m.

Donations to all political parties in the third quarter of 2008 totalled £8.9m, down from £13.5m in the previous quarter, possibly reflecting donors' straitened circumstances as the economic downturn began to bite.

Conservatives received £5,138,850 in donations between October and December, Labour £2,621,952 and the Liberal Democrats £960,898.

And the Conservative financial advantage over Labour was increased further because David Cameron's party received almost £1.5m in "short money" from public funds in the three-month period.

The massive loans taken on by Labour to fund the 2005 election campaign continue to hang over the party, with £11.5m outstanding at the end of last year, compared to £6.9m for the Tories.

Among the gifts to the Conservatives were services worth more than £70,000 from Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd, the company owned by party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft.

The donation came before last month's launch of an Electoral Commission investigation into Bearwood's funding of the Conservatives, following allegations from Labour MPs that the UK-registered firm was the beneficiary of cash moved from a Belize-based company, which they claim contravenes a ban on overseas donations.

Since David Cameron became party leader in late 2005, donations from Bearwood have totalled more than £3m - including donations in kind - making it one of the party's biggest corporate donors.

The latest quarter's figures show Bearwood scaled down its giving towards the end of the year, providing services worth £71,629 in the three-month period, compared to £650,137 in the previous quarter.

The vast majority of donations to Labour in the last quarter came from the trade unions, which contributed £2,120,494 of the party's £2,621,952 total.

Today's figures showed eight minor parties failed to provide their required donation returns and 10 their required borrowing returns on time and will automatically incur a penalty.

Six parties reported donations that should have been reported in previous quarters and two reported loans late.

But Electoral Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said late reporting was becoming less common.

Ms Watson said: "Political parties need to raise money to pay for staff and for campaigns to communicate with voters. But it's important that the public can see how parties are funded and that, whatever their size, they comply with the rules on reporting.

"We're pleased to see that there is a continuing trend of improving compliance with the rules on transparency. This is a sign that the parties recognise how important this is to the electorate."