Calls for Suffolk political parties to repay Covid-19 grant money

Chancellor Rishi Sunak previously announced the furlough scheme is being extended to October Picture

Chancellor Rishi Sunak set up a series of support schemes last year - Credit: PA

Calls have been made for four political parties in Suffolk to return thousands of pounds of public money claimed to pay business rates for campaign offices.

A freedom of information request by media outlet HuffPost UK revealed 22 branches of political parties around the country were handed £10,000 grants to pay their business rates during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The investigation revealed the South Suffolk Conservative Association, South Suffolk Labour Party, Suffolk County Labour Party and the Ipswich Labour Party were among those to claim the grant. 

Two Conservative Associations - Haltemprice and Tatton - and Walthamstow Labour Party have since repaid the money, it was reported. 

The Conservative Party said the funding was "in line with government guidance", but Communists in Suffolk called for the parties to explain whether the money will be returned. 

Mark Jones

Mark Jones, Communist Party campaigner - Credit: Communist Party of Britain

Mark Jones, Communist Party campaigner and county council candidate for Felixstowe Coastal ward said: "While such payments might be technically legal, local Conservative and Labour Parties in Suffolk clearly also think they are moral as well.

"It's interesting that while Walthamstow Labour Party and Haltemprice Conservative Association, which have sitting MPs, have returned the monies, no such indications have been given by either Conservative or Labour Party chiefs in Suffolk."

Darren Turner, Communist Party candidate for Bury St Edmunds Tower ward, added: "It wasn't that long ago that Lord Mandelson boasted that the Labour Party was intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

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"To working class residents this makes it look as if local Labour Parties are equally laidback in raking in monies from taxpayers even though they don't have any MPs.

"The Communist Party is unimpressed with this attitude and is urging the Suffolk political establishment to return every penny of the £40,000 without delay." 

But a spokesman for Ipswich Labour Party defended the claim and said the branch was forced to suspend and then shut down a fundraising operation. 

The spokesman said: "The challenges faced by Ipswich Labour Party due to coronavirus were substantially the same as those faced by most other businesses operating in Ipswich, and our eligibility to receive the grant was genuine and applied for on exactly the same basis as others who have suffered financial pressures due to the virus."

Babergh councillor Simon Barrett does not believe the proposed speed reduction is needed. Photo: Gre

Babergh councillor Simon Barrett does not believe the proposed speed reduction is needed. Photo: Gregg Brown. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Simon Barrett, South Suffolk Association chairman, said: "We were advised, by letter, from the district council that because we have a rateable value and a business, there is a grant of £10,000, which is a one-off, because we had been shut down," he said. 

"We're still effectively shut down because we haven't been able to hold any fundraising events and we still have staff. We haven't furloughed any staff. The costs don't go away, the rent has still got to be paid, the wages have still got to be paid. 

"The government effectively shut people down and it was their way of compensating businesses who were told, 'you can not operate'."

A spokesman for the Suffolk County Labour Party added: "Suffolk County Labour Party took on the premises previously occupied by Sandy Martin MP after he vacated the office following the general election.

"The intention was to use it as a base for the party leading through to the 2021 county elections, specifically as a phonebank - it has six telephone lines.

"We negotiated a rent level (to include utilities and shared use of kitchen and toilet) and became liable to business rates."

This newspaper was not able to reach the South Suffolk Labour Party.