NI party finances… show me the money!

2 08 2009

Lots has been written about the finances of local parties over the past few days, so I’m not going into this at great length. Simply to say that I quite like these graphics below (link here), as they put all those confusing figures being quoted everywhere into some context. (This is only for Parties with expenditure above £250,000 – the fiscally prudent DUP fall beneath this, hence their absence.)

The below are a simple track of income/expenditure/assets between 2003 and 2008. They told me everything I wanted to know in a few seconds…

  • UUP
UUP

UUP

The UUP look pretty good but there is a systemic problem in their finances. It’s the flat-lining blue line… income. The income has remained stubbornly immovable for the best part of 18 months. Most problematic is the line at 2007. All other parties see a spike in income before elections (donors/funding swings in to oil the election machines) and this was true in the 2007 Assembly elections. But according to this graph, the UUP was not able to generate another single, solitary cent. You can see the expenditure go up to pay for the election, but no matching movement in income.

Does this mean the membership has been milked dry? Are there no donors left for the UUP to call on? Who was in charge of fundraising during this time?

Also, bit of a mixed message from the UUP. In this BBC report, Treasurer Mark Cosgrove paid tribute to all the members for reducing the expenditure. But this is not exactly what how he described it in the statement of accounts. Stability came about despite (falling returns from) members, and the main credit for the turnaround is due to UUP management team.

The statement reads: ‘This financial stability has been achieved despite the fact that the combined membership and quotas that we have requested from our members represent the lowest amounts the modern party has ever levied.’

Both statements cannot be true. So which is it?

Overall, the Party  must find new sources of income. Yes, the UUP can say the Tory deal hasn’t earned them any money (up to Q4 ’08) and they still have assets to liquidise, but gorging yourself on assets is not a sustainable business plan. Can it be too long before the UUP go cap in hand to Central Office to pay for the general election?

PS. I confess ignorance here, perhaps someone can help me out on this one. But I see from the accounts graph above that the UUP expenditure shows an uninterrupted fall from mid-2007. But if you check out the East Belfast accounts for 2008, you can see an entry of £175,825 as ‘costs of refurbishment’. This must reflect the establishment of the new HQ at Strandtown. So why is this expense off the Party accounts? I know the refurbishment will add value to the asset but is shouldn’t Party statement of accounts mention what is HQ expenditure? Just curious, but I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable accounting explanation for this.

  • SINN FEIN
SF

SF

One thing that struck me about the graph above – how did the richest party in Ireland manage to have ZERO assets between 2004 and 2005? Does this reflect the withdrawal of allowances; and the uplift in assets reflect restoration of allowances?

  • SDLP
SDLP

SDLP

The SDLP has seen income slip by over half in five years, and assets have dipped slightly in recent times. Perhaps this reflects something of public attitudes to political parties generally. With greater voter apathy, falling membership (fees) and less activism, the size of the SDLP has necessarily reduced. During this time, Sinn Fein has been expanding organisationally (if expenditure is anything to go by). At least in a financial context there is an unequal competition for nationalist votes. How will be the SDLP re-inject radicalism and cash into their operations?

O’Conall Street has started the debate, but the SDLP must address this. The Fianna Fail accounts for NI show no spending, but what will happen when they get active here? The SDLP and FF will be knocking on the same doors looking for funding/donors/members/activists etc etc. So things are going to get more difficult, more competitive.

If donors and potential members are buying into a product, then what is it that the SDLP are selling? If finances are anything to go by then the SDLP’s market share is falling. A little innovation is necessary. Up off the floor Stoops – any ideas?

UPDATE: Regarding the question mark I raised over UUP HQ/East Belfast/refurbishment works, my ignorance has been answered. I am told that Party HQ is not owned by East Belfast and that the refurbishment of Strandtown is for Victoria Branch’s sole benefit. Hence the separate accounts. Happy to clarify!

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One response

20 08 2009
Mark Cosgrove

Hi. I have never seen your website before but I appreciate your analysis. Their is no contradiction in the two UUP statements. Our members were levied a record low (quota payments from Associations) but significant membership money helped maintain overall member income. Also you have hit upon the biggest factor in the UUP accounts. The centrally published figures are only a fraction of the real balance sheet value of the collective party. Election Commision rules dictate that only Accounting Units with revenue above 25k must report their income seperately. This i why you have East Belfasts figures (of which Victoria Branch is a member). In addition to this several other UUP Associations own property and liquid assets worth several million pounds but because they have not got an income in excess of 25k they are not published. Amongst them are Fermanagh, Lagan Valley, Newry and Armagh, Foyle, East Londonderry, etc, etc. What your graph shows is the net worth of the central party is significantly in excess of all other political parties in NI. This has been achieved despite the fact that we are the only party in Government in the UK that does not recieve central funding (as you know we control over 55% of the Assembly budget). In terms of our relationship with the Conservative Party the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee, of which I am co Treasurer, is responsible for fund raising for the General Election. We have significant fundraising plans in place.

Regards
Cllr Mark Cosgrove
UUP Treasurer

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