The Londonist reports that Joan Ruddock, the Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, has taken the unusual step of submitting her election expenses return without attaching any invoices or receipts, instead listing all expenses as “notional”:
Why do we need to see boring things like receipts, you ask? Well it’s so we can verify what the campaigns say they spent, to ensure no candidate received an unfair advantage by spending more than the legal limits. Without receipts, we have no evidence beyond the campaign’s assurance that they stuck to the spending limit, or that they’ve accurately accounted for costs that were shared across multiple campaigns.
Former energy minister Ruddock’s ‘short’ campaign election expenses return has no invoices or receipts attached. The reason? All spending is, perfectly legally, attributed to “notional expenditure”. This is used to account for “benefits in kind” received by the campaign – like a supporter allowing their printer to be used – or for any items paid for on behalf of the candidate. Under Electoral Commission guidance, no invoices need to be submitted for notional expenditure. In Ms Ruddock’s case, the Lewisham Deptford Labour Party has paid for and supplied everything bought by the campaign – amounting to £8,100 – and this has been counted as a donation, as required under the rules of notional expenditure.
This is within the rules, since the Electoral Commission’s guidance for candidates and agents states:
The agent must keep invoices or receipts for all payments over £20. You do not need these for items bought before the agent was appointed, or for notional expenditure. [paragraph 5.9]
Ms Ruddock’s agent has confirmed to the Londonist that this was done to “ease bureaucracy”, but it appears to have done nothing to help transparency, given the current scrutiny of politicians’ expenses.
The Londonist plans to ask the Electoral Commission to review this part of its guidance.
Read the full piece at the Londonist here.
Photo by the Londonist’s RachelH_ on Flickr.