Assembly Election

Stiffer fines needed says polling watchdog after Ukip fined £3,500 for election breaches

The Electoral Commission has asked the government to consider increasing the level of fines imposed to parties who breach the rules
Michael McHugh

FINES should be stiffened for political parties failing to properly declare election spending, a polling watchdog in Northern Ireland said.

Ukip in Northern Ireland received a £3,500 penalty after it delivered an "inaccurate" return for the 2016 assembly election, the Electoral Commission added.

It posted a nil return, claiming all spending had been included in individual details delivered by candidates. However, some of that expense was by the party rather than the candidate and should have been reported as such, the commission decided.

Bob Posner, its director of political finance and regulation, said: "The commission has asked the government to consider increasing the level of fines which can be imposed for these types of offences, in order to ensure there continues to be a deterrent to parties breaching the rules."

He said annual accounts were the only information available to voters providing an overview of a party's finances.

"In the case of parties which do not receive donations above the reporting threshold, it is also the only information available to voters as to the party's income," he said.

"That being the case it is important that these parties deliver accounts, and do so on time. The majority of smaller parties do so and we will take action where others do not."

The commission also fined several parties with income or expenditure less than £250,000 that failed to deliver annual accounts on time.

Further cases are being considered, which will be published when completed.

In 2016 the DUP spent £517,428 on elections, a report published by the commission disclosed.

Sinn Féin declared contributions to candidates worth £79,908 and election expenses of £53,243.

The Ulster Unionists spent £141,070 on the assembly election, nearly double the previous year's bill for the Westminster poll.

The SDLP declared election campaign expenses of £48,154, lower than the previous year.

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