The Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for failures including the way expenses were recorded in relation to its 2015 election ‘battle bus’ that visited marginal constituencies Chester and Weaver Vale.
Cheshire Police concluded no offences were committed in a separate but related local investigation.
Last year Channel 4 News claimed the Tory Party breached election expenses rules by failing to declare £38,000 hotel expenditure for activists aboard the battle bus when it toured 29 key marginals.
Party chiefs faced allegations such costs should have been recorded under individual candidates’ limits, rather than as part of the national campaign. This could have meant constituency-specific spending limits were exceeded, which is a matter for the police.
The Conservative Party rejected this claim at the time saying the battle bus expenses came under the national spending threshold – which was not exceeded – while accepting an ‘administrative error’ meant these accommodation costs were not declared.
Members of the public raised concerns with Cheshire Constabulary whose investigation found no case to answer.
Police spokesman Will Harris said today: “Cheshire Constabulary has completed its investigation into alleged electoral fraud in relation to expenses submitted following the 2015 general election . After a 12-month time extension was obtained for potential prosecution, a thorough investigation took place with a specific focus on the Weaver Vale and Chester constituencies.
“Having gathered all the evidence available, it has now been established that no criminal offences have been committed and no further action will be taken.”
However, the Electoral Commission has commented on the national ‘battle bus’ situation as part of its wider investigation into electoral expenses which has resulted in a £70,000 fine for the Tory Party.
It found that since the bus was used to promote both the national party and individual candidates then a proportion of the expenditure should have been included in local spending limits.
In addition, during the investigation the party identified spending of £63,486.83 on the Battlebus 2015 campaign activity that was not reported in its return ‘due to human error’.
The Electoral Commission report concluded: “The Commission does not consider that the full cost of the Battlebus2015 campaign activity constituted party campaign spending. A proportion constituted candidate campaign expenditure incurred on behalf of those candidates who benefitted from the activity.
“Consequently, the Commission is satisfied that a proportion of the reported £38,996 was not in fact party campaign spending and should not have been included in the party’s spending return.
“Further, the Commission is satisfied that a proportion of the missing £63,486.83 spent on the Battlebus2015 campaign was party campaign spending. This proportion should have been included in the party’s return and was not.”
The investigation as a whole concluded there were significant failures by the Conservative Party to report accurately on how much it spent on campaigning following a probe covering the 2015 UK Parliamentary general election, the 2014 European Parliamentary Election and three parliamentary by-elections in 2014.