Watchdog rebukes Colchester Lib Dems

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorA POLITICAL party in East Anglia has had its knuckles rapped by the Electoral Commission because it failed to declare a donation on time.

A POLITICAL party in East Anglia has had its knuckles rapped by the Electoral Commission because it failed to declare a donation on time.

Colchester Liberal Democrat constituency party did not report that it had received a donation on January 18 of £2,350 from John Stevens even though there is a legal obligation to make four quarterly returns to the Commission, providing details of cash and non-cash donations received.

Although the sum of money is not considered significant, the elections watchdog says there is a principle at stake. “The Commission believes the late reporting of donations is not acceptable,” it says in a statement released on its internet site. “We expect the parties to improve their reporting systems.”

In total, £310,000 of donations to the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats were reported late.

These donations only came to light when they were spotted in parties' annual accounts. The Electoral Commission said there were more to come. “Some parties have also told the Commission that there are further donations which should have been reported, but which do not appear in today's figure.”

The Lib Dems' Colchester chairman Jennie Stevens - no relation to the donor - said: “I cannot disagree with the rebuke.

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“Our system broke down because of Mr Stevens' illness when he was treasurer. Colchester Lib Dems are working with the Electoral Commission to ensure there is no repeat. We have rectified the problem.”

Nationally, it emerged the Tories received almost £217,000 in 2005 without declaring the money on the Register of Donations. Labour, the Greens and the UK Independence Party also made disclosures which were at least six months overdue and there were still more to be declared.

The late declarations came alongside the regular quarterly update of the Register of Donations, which included loans for the first time since the cash-for-honours row broke.

The Labour Party reported more than £28m, the vast majority of which was received before the latest accounting period of April to June. The Tories declared more than £2.8m of loans which the Electoral Commission said had been received during the second quarter of 2006.

The Liberal Democrats' declaration of £584,000 is also understood to include donations from prior to the reporting period.

The Electoral Commission's chief executive Peter Wardle said: “Full disclosure of both donations and loans is vital to address public concern about the transparency of political party funding.

“The fact that the main parties seem to be struggling with the level of disclosure that we have called for on a voluntary basis suggests that they are ill-prepared to comply with the new laws that Parliament has put in place.”

Regular quarterly figures for the second quarter of 2006 showed £10.7m had been donated to 16 parties between April and June. Labour received £3.4m, the Tories £5.9m and the Lib Dems £783,000.

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