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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The use of public funds

Fascinating article in today's Times in which Jon Trickett, the chairman of the Compass Parliamentary Group, is reported to have urged Peter Watt, the General Secretary of the Labour Party, to investigate whether members of the Cabinet are misusing “government apparatus”, paid by public funds, to support their campaign:

In his letter Mr. Trickett says that MPs are concerned about the separation between “government apparatus” and candidates’ campaigns. He believes that special advisers should not be used to promote and run political campaigns, although he emphasised that he was not aware of any individual cases:

“You cannot have people who are paid for by the taxpayer for one purpose being used for another purpose,” he told The Times. The special advisers to Mr Johnson, Mr Benn and Mr Hain are involved with the deputy leadership race directly, answering media inquiries. Ms Harman fields calls herself. This could bring the special advisers into conflict with the code of the Cabinet Office, which governs the conduct of special advisers.

This states: “Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited. They should act in a way which upholds the political impartiality of civil servants and does not conflict with the civil service code. They should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.”
Peter Hain, who represents the Neath constituency within my region, has always been very scrupulous with public money. He has been critical in the past of regional AMs who he believes are misusing public funds although he has never put forward any evidence to support this assertion.

Mr. Hain was once again amongst one of the highest consumers of postage and stationary from the House of Commons in the latest list of Welsh MPs' expenses. Although all this expenditure was undeniably above board and within the rules we are prevented from seeing how the money was spent as the House of Commons continually refuse requests for more detail.

I am happy that no accusations of impropriety are being directed at any of the deputy leadership candidates. In the circumstances though greater transparency would be very helpful to everybody.
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