Tory HQ steps in over beleaguered association

CONSERVATIVE Central Office last night refused to deny claims that it has stepped in to oversee the running of its Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket constituency association.

The apparent move by party chiefs to put the constituency association – which is responsible for parliamentary candidate selection and supporting the MP – in “supported status” comes in the wake of a string of problems revealed previously by the EADT.

In March, the Woolpit-based association was visited by bailiffs appointed by Mid Suffolk District Council to get about �2,000 in owed business rates.

The association is also being probed by the Electoral Commission to see whether there had been a breach of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) under which all political parties and their local associations have to submit proper statements of accounts to the Electoral Commission if their income is above �25,000.

In the 2007 accounts, the association reported income of �186,914 and expenditure of �209,201.

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Any failure to submit required statements of accounts can lead to fines of up to �1,000 per offence, if they are more than a year late.

The current situation at the Bury association has left local Tories perplexed, concerned and eager for information.

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One told the EADT: “There’s lots and lots of rumours and I’ve heard about the supported status. It sounds a bit like special measures in schools.”

The source added that great efforts had been made in the past couple of years to clear the association’s debts and said Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, who is expected to resume parliamentary duties next month, had “helped”.

A second association member said: “The only communications we get from the association seem to be when things have gone wrong.

“We just want to know what is going on.”

Despite the recent statement by the Conservative Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude that a “new era of transparency” had begun, Tory HQ has refused to comment on the current situation at the association.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party did not deny the local association was to be taken over by head office under the “supported status” measure. However he said: “We don’t comment on internal party matters.”

Asked whether the Conservative Party felt it should explain the current situation to the Tory voters in Bury and Stowmarket who voted for their candidate – David Ruffley – back into his parliamentary seat, the spokes man said: “No.”

The spokesman did confirm the existence of a letter explaining the current situation, which is expected to be sent out shortly.

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