Tory parties pocket tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer funded Covid-19 support cash

The Tory party has defended the decision by local parties to take cash (Image: Getty Images)

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Local Tory parties across Yorkshire pocketed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer cash designed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, it has been revealed.

The Mirror's sister website YorkshireLive contacted every local authority in the county to establish whether the government's £10,000 business support grant – described as a "lifeline" for struggling firms –  had been distributed for the purpose of supporting MPs' constituency office premises through the lockdown.

The investigation found that the government's business support grant was received by Conservative Associations in Wakefield, Harrogate and Knaresborough, Selby and Ainsty and Shipley.

All councils assisted with the enquiry with the exception of East Riding council, which refused to provide the information.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or illegality or that MPs personally pocketed the money. 

Rishi Sunak announced the scheme as a lifeline for local businesses – his association did not take any cash
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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Some associations have explained that they were in need of the grant to cover overheads, while the Shipley Conservative Association said the money had been earmarked for charity.

However, the decision of some local associations to accept the grant has been criticised.

Labour MP Karl Turner branded the move "absolutely outrageous".

"It is absolutely outrageous that local Conservative Associations have accepted the government's grant of £10,000," he told YorkshireLive.

"The only reason they exist is to promote the Conservative party locally and campaign to get their Conservative candidates elected at local council and parliamentary elections.

"These local associations are almost entirely voluntary organisations. They very often own their properties outright and employ no staff at all so people will rightly wonder why they need to take advantage of this £22bn tax-payer funded bail-out from the Chancellor."

He added: "If MPs or their political associations are claiming that they've donated the monies to charities it is quite wrong. They should not be using taxpayer cash to fund their chosen charities.

"I welcome charity giving but they should fundraise or give themselves from their own pockets, rather than taking a grant from the Treasury meant for struggling businesses."

According to constitution of the Conservative party, local associations exist to "sustain and promote the objects and values of the party" in their various parliamentary constituencies.

They exist to "provide an effective campaigning organisation in the constituency; to secure the return of Conservative candidates at elections; to raise the necessary funds to achieve these objectives, and to contribute to the central funds of the party".

Labour Party MP Karl Turner slammed those associations which took the money
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Mr Turner said the local associations that did receive the grant should return it.

"These Conservative associations haven’t lost anything at all due to the coronavirus pandemic and so they shouldn’t be accepting this money from the government," he said.

"Thousands of people in those constituencies would have missed out from this grant funding, so although it might not be illegal it is definitely morally wrong that they have pocketed this cash," he added.

"They should do the right thing and hand that money back to the Treasury.

"After all it’s the hardworking taxpayers – who are likely to be struggling themselves right now – that are paying for it."

The small business grant fund formed part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak ’s economic support package for businesses hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) described the grant scheme as a "lifeline to businesses who are struggling to survive due to the coronavirus shutdown" and encouraged local authorities to "make payments as quickly as possible to support struggling businesses". 

Under the criteria, companies which have a rateable value of £15,000 or less and which received business rates relief qualified for the business support grant.

In the case of Yorkshire, the local Conservative associations qualified to receive the grant. MPs can rent space in offices owned or leased by their associations. Only the owner or leaseholder of buildings are responsible for business rates.

In guidance recently issued by IPSA, the expenses watchdog advised MPs to decline the business support grant.

"We would advise MPs to decline the grant. IPSA is continuing to pay salaries to MPs and their staff, as well as reimbursing MPs and staff members for coronavirus-related costs and other staffing and office costs throughout this period," it said.

"Therefore MPs and their staff members are not facing any loss of income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in the way that some businesses are."

A Conservative Party spokesperson defended the decision of the local associations to receive the grant, arguing that they were "no different from other organisations in facing challenging times".

"Political associations are not governed by the guidance issued by IPSA," they said.

"Any organisation that pays business rates can apply for the Coronavirus Business Rate Relief Fund.  They are deemed eligible by the local council.

"Local political associations are no different from other organisations in facing challenging times. The purpose of the Coronavirus Business Rate Relief fund is to protect organisations and prevent local job losses.

"This funding from the Coronavirus Business Rate Relief Fund is in line with guidance from HMRC and the Electoral Commission."

Neil Warren, Wakefield council’s chief finance officer, said: "The council made a small business grant payment of £10,000 in respect of offices located in Wakefield which are occupied by Wakefield District Conservative Association."

A spokesperson for Bradford Council said: "A Small Business Grant Fund payment of £10,000 has been paid to the Shipley Conservative Association based at the Shipley Constituency Office.

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