As Tory conference gets under way in Birmingham, it has emerged the ruling party are breaking the government’s own rules over sponsorship. An investigation by Political Scrapbook has also revealed that the Conservatives are refusing to refund money spent on conference passes by organisations axed by the coalition.

The last year has seen a series of strident attacks on public sector lobbying and promotion from senior Conservatives. Criticising local authorities in July, Eric Pickles said:

“We are calling time on the scandalous practice of government lobbying government. It is an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ cash and contributed towards the corrosive culture of spin that Labour cultivated”

Indeed, PR Week reported that Pickles’ own Department for Communities and Local Government had “instructed public bodies not to spend money on stalls at party conferences”. But it seems that this DCLG edict has been ignored by Conservative Central Office. According to documents obtained by Scrapbook under freedom of information, governing parties charged Liverpool City Council a whopping £21,963 for exhibition stands at party conferences:

This local authority is doubtless not the only “public body” with a stand in Birmingham’s ICC. Furthermore, organisations including London 2012, Westminster City Council and Thames Gateway have booked so-called “hosting’ packages”.

But what is more shocking are Tory attempts to launder public money into party coffers with absolutely no benefit to the taxpayer. Where a publicly-funded organisation has been axed by the government the Conservatives will refuse refunds for conference passes. In June it was announced 8 of 9 Regional Development Agencies in England would close. The government told the RDA network in August that no members of staff should attend party conferences.

Having been banned from attending by the government, the North West Development Agency immediately sought to recoup the £1,500 – public money – they had spent on passes only to be told:

“Unfortunately passes are non-refundable due to the processes that each one goes through to receive proper security clearance”

When it comes to their own conference, Tory lectures on wasting public money don’t seem to apply.

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  22. MTPT: Yes, but LCC haven’t been on their high horse about public expenditure on this kind of promotion/sponsorship/PR.

    The Tories are trying to have it both ways. If Pickles is so hot on this kind of thing then why did they accept the money?

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  25. @PS: You make it sound as if Eric Pickles was personally processing the conference bookings. If he personally took the booking from LCC, then you might have an argument.

    In reality – as I suspect you’re well aware – all three major party conferences are events run by third party events managements companies (in the case of CPC10, Fingerprint Events Limited), so both halves of your article (LCC’s booking, and the enforcement of the no-refunds clause) rest on a wholly (and obviously) false premise: that the Conservative Party was the counterparty to either transaction.

    Now, did those FoI documents happen to say how much LCC spent on attending Labour’s conference?

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  69. @MTPT: Right. So can I get a catering stand called “ERIC PICKLES’ BIG FAT PIE SHOP” for next year then? Of course not.

    You can’t, on the one hand, have your own government department take a strong line on party conference stands and then invoke plausible deniability using an events company. It’s hypocrisy and a clear case of “do as I say not as I do”.

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  71. Perhaps the Director of Communications wasn’t aware of what was going on – he does appear to have a record of not knowing you know!

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