Former Tory councillor's warning over investigations into town's MPs

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Tony Williams says inquiries are 'not good' for the Tory vote

A former Conservative leader in Blackpool has warned investigations into the dealings of both the town's MPs are 'not good' for the Tory vote during what could be an election year.

Tony Williams was leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council for eight years before resigning from the party in February 2023 following a row with Blackpool South MP Scott Benton.

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He lost his seat on the council at last year's May local elections after standing as an independent candidate in Norbreck ward. Since then, investigations have been made by The Sunday Times into the activities of both Blackpool's MPs.

A Sunday Times investigation into Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, published this month, suggested he used taxpayer's money to fund Conservative Party work and campaigning. 

Paul MaynardPaul Maynard
Paul Maynard | n/a

Allegations relate to the use of an office at Blackpool Technology Park in Bispham. Public funds are given to MPs to run a constituency office but they cannot use them for party political campaigns which must be funded from separate political donations.

Mr Williams said local Conservatives had used the office frequently for campaign activity but members did not know how the finance arrangements worked.

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He said: "I think we always used Paul's office for North Blackpool councillor meetings, selections and campaign activity etc."

He added: "I'm sure Paul's team would be aware of the rules regarding the allowed activity, public finance and sub-letting of his office so perhaps this is just a clerical error or misunderstanding of the alleged agreement with IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority).

"If it has been knowingly deployed without an official agreement with IPSA  and the allowance absorbed into political business, then it's a very serious misuse of public funding and anyone involved in it should be held accountable and possibly face a police enquiry.

"But let's hope that an investigative action by IPSA will hopefully get to the truth and that it's all been a misunderstanding.

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"Of course Paul's political opponents would be delighted if he was suspended as dirt thrown often sticks and we are in an election year. Having the town's two Conservative MPs under investigation and/or suspension is not good for the local and national blue vote." 

Mr Maynard has defended the allegation and says he believed he had the proper arrangements in place. 

He told the Sunday Times: "I have financial agreements in place with IPSA over the ad hoc use of my constituency office by the local Conservative association. I believe that these arrangements are appropriate, but will be seeking clarification from IPSA to ensure this is the case. I will, of course, abide by any findings they make and ensure that any payments deemed necessary can be made promptly." 

In December the Commons Standards Committee recommended a 35-day suspension for Blackpool South MP Scott Benton, who was elected to represent the Conservatives in 2019.

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Mr Benton has appealed against the recommendation, which came after a Sunday Times investigation found him allegedly offering to lobby ministers and table parliamentary questions on behalf of gambling investors.

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