1. ITV Report

Conservative party fined for 'understating' expenses in Clacton by-election

  • Video report by ITV News Anglia's Serena Sandhu

The Conservative Party has been fined £15,000 for failing to report how it spent campaign money during the Clacton by-election in October 2014 following Douglas Carswell's defection to UKIP.

It's part of a record fine of £70,000 handed to the party over a series of issues with election expenses connected with two other by-elections, an election Battle Bus tour and the 2015 General Election.

The by-election in Clacton was among those where gaps were identified C Credit: PA

In a separate investigation, police files have been handed to the Crown Prosecution Service over inquiries about candidate spending in a number of marginal constituencies.

Northamptonshire Police are among the forces that have referred the matter to the CPS to see if criminal charges should be made against MPs and their agents.

To ensure fairness between political parties there are limits to what each candidate can spend on campaigning to be elected.

The maximum amount allowed on campaign spending in by-elections
The Clacton by election was triggered by the defection of the MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP. Credit: PA

The Clacton by-election in 2014 was triggered by the defection of the MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP.

During the by-election the Electoral Commission said there was a total declaration of £84,049.22 of which £12,314 was spending on an agent and other staff costs which was invoiced by the Conservative Party.

Of this £3,894.39 relates to spending on accommodation and administration.

The Electoral Commission found evidence supplied by Channel Four News that the Conservative Party booked accommodation in the Clacton area during the by-election.

  • Lifehouse Spa - 290 nights between 4 September and 11 October 2014 - cost unknown
  • Premier Inn - 71 nights between 9 September and 1 October 2014 at a cost of £6,582.86
Investigators found that the party has listed spending which should have counted towards individual candidates' budget Credit: PA

The Electoral Commission found that all accommodation costs for staff and volunteers should have been declared as by-election campaign expenses because it was "to facilitate those individuals' work on the respective by-election campaigns.

This money would not have been spent otherwise."

The Conservative party said it used a formula to work out how to apportion costs between local and national campaigns.

The Electoral Commission said it had found Credit: PA

However the Electoral Commission said it was unclear how the proportion was calculated and correct accounting records had not been kept as required by election law.

The Commission said in its report that the only credible purpose was to work on the by-election campaigns therefore it was "not satisfied" the proportion of costs was a "true reflection."

A Conservative Party spokesman said it would pay the fines imposed without argument.

The Conservative Party has complied fully with the Electoral Commission’s investigation since it began more than a year ago and will pay the fines they have imposed.

This is the first time the Conservative Party has been fined for a reporting error. We regret that and will continue to keep our internal processes under review to ensure this does not happen again.

Given the range of technical errors made by a number of political parties and campaign groups, there also needs to be a review of how the Electoral Commission’s processes and requirements could be clarified or improved.”

– Conservative Party spokesman
The Battle Bus election campaign also came under scrutiny