Sherwood MP slammed by watchdog for gaining “undue advantage” with tax-payer resources

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer, outside his Hucknall office
Sherwood MP Mark Spencer, outside his Hucknall office

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer has been criticised by a Parliamentary watchdog for using tax-payers’ resources on Tory party campaigning ahead of next month’s county council elections.

A probe was launched in February after Mr Spencer denied that he and his office manager, Ashfield council’s Conservative leader Ben Bradley had used “parliamentary resources to gain an undue political advantage”.

But the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found a number of the MP’s weekly e-newsletters were “party political in tone” and in breach of paragraph 15 of the House of Commons Code of Conduct for Members.

The complainant wrote: “I sign up to my MP’s newsletter to hear how I am being represented in Parliament. I do not expect it to be used as a campaigning tool by his office manager.

“I also pay my taxes and respect that our Parliamentarians need staff to support then in their role. I do not pay my taxes to pay for time and resources for the local Conservative Party county council election campaign.”

The MP has since offered an apology and cllr Bradley has been sent on a training course on the use of House of Commons resources.

“Among the material which concerned me,” the commissioner wrote, were “e-newletters which contained hyper-links to the webpages of local councillors with overtly party political content”, as well as “ partisan comments on the outcomes of recent by-elections” and “explicit references to the local council elections in May and the Conservative Party’s manifesto for those elections.”

Explaining the code of conduct, the commissioner told Mr Spencer that MPs “must take care when making party political references in communications produced using House-provided ICT and/or distributed via a parliamentary email address.”

In a March 1 letter to the commissioner, Mr Spencer said he was disappointed by the allegations, which he said were “totally unsubstantiated” and he pledged that “I have done no party political campaigning or fundraising using my e-newsletter or website.”

But the commissioner ruled that “collectively, I consider thesen newsletters fall on the wrong side of the parliamentary/party political boundary” and gave a point-by-point assessment of where the problems lay.

Mr Spencer said the Commissioner felt it was not sufficiently serious to report to the Standards Board, adding: “However we have apologised and we welcome the opportunity to undertake further training to ensure we are fully compliant in the future.”