Response to Parliamentary Service's report
In December 2018, the Auditor-General received a request to look into claims that a Member of Parliament asked a parliamentary support staff member to carry out political party work during work hours. On 18 February 2019, the Auditor-General wrote to the General Manager of the Parliamentary Service, asking the Service to carry out an investigation into the claims.
The Parliamentary Service has completed its investigation and published its findings.
Overall findings and recommendations
We are reassured to see that the Parliamentary Service’s investigation found no evidence of any systemic abuse of funding to carry out political party work using Parliamentary Service resources.
The report recommends a number of changes to systems and processes to help ensure greater transparency around the nature of expenditure using the Parliamentary Service’s party and member support funding, and to provide greater clarity around the accountability for that expenditure.
We consider these recommendations to be appropriate and reasonable.
Allegations that were substantiated
We note that the investigation confirmed that some allegations were substantiated. That is, there were some instances where staff time was spent on party or political matters. The report concludes that those examples involved an “extremely immaterial amount of time”.
As the Parliamentary Service acknowledges, there is nothing in the Public Finance Act 1989 that allows for any funds appropriated for parliamentary purposes to be used for political party purposes, no matter how small the amount. This is reinforced by the accompanying guidance from 2013, produced by the Treasury. That guidance specifically states that all unappropriated expenditure must be reported publicly and to Parliament.
We also believe that, in the view of the public, using any parliamentary funding for political purposes would be seen as inappropriate, regardless of the amount.
That said, we recognise that there may sometimes be practical difficulties in establishing whether an activity was carried out during parliamentary time or a staff member’s personal time. In addition, in this case, the political party activities in question were clearly incidental (for example, receiving membership fees at an electoral office), and are unlikely to have had any practical impact on the work being carried out for parliamentary purposes.
For these reasons, we do not propose to take any further action in response to the allegations that were substantiated in this case. That said, we caution strongly against any approach that suggests a breach of an appropriation is acceptable provided it is not material.
Broader considerations concerning use and monitoring of party and member support funding
We note that the Parliamentary Service is engaged in a broader consideration of the use and monitoring of member and party support funding in response to recommendations made by the Appropriations Review Committee in its 2018 report (Report of the Seventh Triennial Appropriation Review Committee).
Staff from our Office are involved in those discussions along with staff from the Treasury. We will continue to engage with the Parliamentary Service, as it looks to find ways to clarify the rules around use of party and member support funding and to ensure greater transparency and accountability for how it is used.