Earlier this month, I put up a post about the finances of NI’s political parties. I referred to all the main parties, but UUP Treasurer Mark Cosgrove has since come back in reference to what I wrote about the UUP.
[He commented in a post, but I think it’s fairer to Mark to reproduce & discuss it here – as Mark’s comments will otherwise be locked away in an archived item which no one will see).
So here goes:
- I referred to this BBC report where Treasurer Mark Cosgrove paid tribute to all the members for turning finance around. But in the statement of accounts, Mark said stability came about despite (falling returns from) members, and the main credit for the turnaround is due to UUP management team. I asked how could both statements be true.
Mark says: 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.
- I asked how the UUP East Belfast branch accounts for 2008 published by the Electoral Commission could show entry of £175,825 as ‘costs of refurbishment’, and yet the overall UUP accounts show continuous slide in expenditure.
Mark says: 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.
- I said that UUP income has flatlined for 18 months. All other parties increase income before the 2007 Assembly elections except the UUP. (Inability to increase fundraising to run an election machine is serious evidence of major fundraising problems.) I then stated that the Party must find new sources of income – and whether the UUP would go cap in hand to Central Office?
Mark says: 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.
Many thanks for the above Mark, very interesting stuff.
Have a couple of points in response…
On the first point, the BBC reported that ‘Mr Cosgrove said the transformation was due to a tremendous effort by members‘.
Mark’s conclusion in the statement of accounts 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.’
I still think there’s a conflict. This looks as though you’re saying the financial state of the Party is both because of the members and in spite of them. But okay, if you levied record lows from members but maintained member income, it must mean you had more members to levy from, right? But then you say that combined membership generated the lowest amounts (suggesting membership had fallen)?
I guess the question to ask is how many members does the UUP have. In the 2007 accounts David Campbell could not put a number on members (as no central figures were held), but you can now as your levies are pretty detailed. How much did membership increase between 2007 and 2008? Help me to undertstand how those statements do not conflict…
The second bullet point is extremely interesting. You said that ‘The centrally published figures are only a fraction of the real balance sheet value of the collective party’.
I had no idea that most of the financial shape of political parties here was completely unknown to the Electoral Commission. Mark says here that millions of pounds of assets and liquid assets (cash is a liquid asset) are held but legally undeclared. For me, this raises huge issues about the quality of transparency these laws were designed to provide. (Can that explain how Sinn Fein – famously the richest party in Ireland – managed to have zero assets between 2004 and 2005?)
What use can the legislation governing party financing be if the true and complete financial picture of a political party can be largely unknown? I’m grateful to Mark for his knowledge on this. Consider the possible loophole – something so simple as suppressing an accounting unit’s income can allow political parties to sail below the radar of the Electoral Commission! Have I understood that properly? (I stress that I’m quite sure the UUP are acting entirely properly and I’m not accusing them of suppressing income/misleading the Commission – am just amazed by possible implications of the legislation.)
The final point is also extremely interesting. Mark says that the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee is responsible for fundraising for the General Election. Now, I’m not being funny Mark – I do appreciate your commenting here – but wouldn’t this sit at odds with your statement to the Antrim Times, when you said:
“We have not asked the Conservative Party, nor is there a mechanism for the Ulster Unionist Party to receive a single, solitary penny from the Conservative Party, so any inference that we are doing this for financial reasons is entirely wrong.”
Surely, if the Joint Committee had no fundraising powers this statement would be correct. But as the opposite is true, the mechanism actually is there for the UUP to receive funding, right? And that mechanism is reinforced reportedly by a joint bank account?
If you follow me, and if the Electoral Commission figures mean anything (!), then it shows that the UUP has not increased income since mid-2006. And levies received from members were at a record low in last accounts. So at a time when it would seem that UUP funding streams are drying up, we learn that the Conservatives are co-responsible for raising finance from which the UUP will run candidates. Isn’t there an apparent inconsistency in there?
Besides, is it so wrong to say that the UUP will receive a certain amount of finance from the Conseratives? Why not just say it and be comfortable with the notion that allies will ally their resources (which includes finance)? Or perhaps the UUP has modifiled its position already?
I’ve gone on at some length here – but your input has been really thought-provoking Mark (it stimulated the political geek in me). Do not be offended, I’m just trying to get at the core of certain issues. Many thanks again for contributing Mark…