We received (through FOIs) two emails linked to communications between the ERG and IPSA (see previous response here).
One email (6 June 2018 16:02) re arranging meetings about the ERG, suggests IPSA were concerned about the ERG’s “other sources of funding” and requested meetings with the group to discuss how their “separation” - re their two bank accounts - was maintained.
Can IPSA update us on the state of this review of the ERG’s accounts?
Under the terms of the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), MPs can claim the costs of payments for pooled staffing services, which provide research, briefing and drafting services to groups of MPs. There are currently five such services which are registered with IPSA:
- the Parliamentary Research Service (for Labour MPs);
- the Policy Research Unit (for Conservative MPs);
- the Scottish National Party Research Team (for SNP MPs);
- the Parliamentary Support Team (for Liberal Democrat MPs) and
- the European Research Group (ERG), which provides briefings to Conservative MPs on issues relating to the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
As part of our core regulatory function, and to assure both ourselves and the public that public funds claimed are in accordance with the Scheme, we conduct regular assurance reviews on different areas of spending, including that related to pooled staffing services. We last conducted such a review in 2016, the report of which is available on our website, during which we examined all expenditure claimed by MPs relating to such services, reviewed the governance and operations of each service and scrutinised examples of output material.
The ERG continued to receive considerable media coverage during 2018 in relation to the Government’s ongoing Brexit negotiations. Some MPs and members of the public questioned whether the service was being used to fund pro-Brexit campaigning activity and whether it should be funded with public money. IPSA will only fund a single-issue research service so long as it complies with the rules and principles of the Scheme – e.g. that it supports MPs’ parliamentary work, is not party-political and does not constitute campaigning. Any campaigning activities should be funded separately.
Given the concerns raised, we believed it was right to seek additional assurance from the ERG regarding their sources of funding and how a separation between parliamentary and campaigning activity was maintained. The ERG, as an unincorporated association, does not publish an annual account, and as such we have not undertaken any review or audit of accounts.
IPSA’s Head of Policy and Assurance met with the ERG’s Senior Researcher on 6 July 2018 at 10am on the Parliamentary Estate to further discuss the ERG’s operations as a pooled staffing service. No agenda, briefing notes or minutes were produced. No further action has been required or taken.
A written note of that meeting was circulated to staff internally at IPSA, a copy of which can be viewed here. A small amount of personal data of third parties has been withheld from the note, including: the names of junior staff members at IPSA, the names of third parties and information relating to the personal employment arrangements of third parties. This information is ‘personal data’, as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and is exempt from disclosure under section 40(2), which provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if disclosure would breach the fair processing principle (Principle 1) of the DPA, where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential. You can find out more information about personal data and FOI via guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on their website: http://ico.org.uk.
No further meetings have been held with the ERG since July 2018.