Figures from the Electoral Commission show that Returning Officers failed to pass on copies of election expense returns for 1 in 5 constituencies.
Returning Officers themselves only keep such expense returns for two years before destroying them, but they are required to pass on a copy first to the Electoral Commission. The Commission itself (thanks to some lobbying by myself in the past) keeps the returns for seven years and will then consider passing them on to the National Archives for safekeeping in perpetuity.
That is particularly important because there is a whole chunk of donation records (donations made direct to a local candidate’s campaign) which only appear on such local expense returns. Therefore if the records are destroyed after two years locally and copies never sent in, then the details of all such donations also get erased, blocking any future scrutiny.
It is also important because, especially during this Parliament, it is easy to see the value of being able to consult constituency expense returns in detail more than two years after the event. Imaging if later this Parliament, MPs and peers are considering new legislation on election expenditure. Politicians, civil servants, pundits, experts and campaigners could all quite reasonably want to investigate further details of how the system worked last time round.
Except that in 1 in 5 cases Returning Officers are failing in their duties, and instead the records will by then have been destroyed rather than preserved for future inspection and analysis.
As the Electoral Commission itself says, this is all “far from satisfactory in terms of complete transparency”.
There is, however, time to rectify matters as the local copies have not yet been destroyed. Not yet.
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