Performance analysis 2020/21: Goal two

Goal 2

To ensure an increasingly trusted and transparent system of regulation in political finance, overseeing compliance, promoting understanding amongst those regulated and proactively pursuing breaches.

This goal captures our regulatory role. We focus on two areas which are at the heart of a healthy democracy: ensuring transparency, and good regulation.

Key achievements

To ensure transparency, we:

  • published financial reports from parties and campaigners
  • worked with parties to deliver financial reports, and adapted our pattern of routine publications as a consequence of challenges parties faced with delivering reports as a result of the pandemic
  • registered political parties and other campaigners and published details in online registers
  • produced new guidance to help campaigners understand and comply with new legal requirements for transparency of digital campaign material introduced by the Scottish Parliament

To support good regulation we:

  • found flexible and new ways to continue our focus on supporting parties and campaigners during the pandemic
  • built up our regulatory intelligence work to drive proactive interactions with individual campaigners 
  • took action and imposed sanctions when the political finance law were broken
  • continued to evolve our regulatory approach to deliver a greater package of support for parties and campaigners

Performance measures

Measures Performance
We publish routine financial returns from parties and campaigners, including statements of accounts, within 30 working days of receiving them (target 100%) 37.99% 
Not achieved4  
We check a minimum of 25% of all financial returns for accuracy and compliance each year 38.95% 
We publish 100% of guidance products on time with no substantive errors 100% 
We provide accurate advice within five to 20 days of receipt of the request, depending on the complexity of the advice (Target 90%) 94.44% 
We notify applicants of the outcome of their registration applications within 30 days of a complete application 75% of the time (Target – 75%) 58.21%  
Not achieved5
We conduct timely and proportionate investigations of which 90% are completed within 180 days 94.44% 
We issue 90% of final notices setting out our sanctions within 21 days of the deadline for representations.  94.29%
We make timely regulatory recommendations that reflect the principles guiding our approach to effective regulatory framework 100%

Our activities during the year

Ensuring transparency

Throughout the year, we focussed on delivering the responsibilities we are accountable for to the UK’s parliaments. We maintained the registers of political parties, ensuring only parties meeting the legal tests are on the register, and we continued reviewing descriptions to help voters identify the party for which candidates are standing.

We worked with parties and campaigners as soon as the likely impact of the pandemic became clear to recognise the challenges of delivering financial reports during the pandemic, and adapted our pattern of routine publications appropriately. We published donations and loans data, statements of accounts, and spending data for the 2019 UK Parliamentary General Election as quickly as possible given understandable delays in delivery, and in some cases without any delay at all.

We continued developing a new online portal for party registration and finance, which we will launch in 2021 and will improve how parties and campaigners register and deliver financial returns
We also developed a new online tool that enabled people to view candidate spending data following the 2019 UKPGE in an interactive and accessible way. Publishing the data in this format provides greater transparency about the money received and spent by candidates at elections.

Good regulation

We further developed our approach to regulatory intelligence to be more proactive and quickly identify and intervene where this could prevent or minimise non-compliance. This reduced the number of cases requiring enforcement action, and helped to prevent campaigners from breaking the rules. We will continue to focus on this. We are also developing a more systematic approach to gathering evidence of areas where targeted guidance and support can most benefit parties and campaigners.

We set up a new regulatory support team dedicated to developing and implementing new and innovative ways to provide proactive support for parties and campaigners to help them comply with the law. Our outreach work included training sessions, seminars or other engagement with the Greater London Authority, the Local Government Association, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and others. We also conducted a survey of campaigners on how they expected the pandemic to impact on their activities at the May 2021 polls to help us understand their challenges and concerns better. Increased stakeholder engagement and outreach work meant we were able to provide clarity to parties, candidates and campaigners on our work and preparations for the May 2021 polls. 

We produced new guidance for the digital imprint regime introduced by the Scottish Parliament, and produced our usual bespoke guidance for parties candidates and agents and campaigners in good time for the May 2021 polls despite the unusually high number of different elections taking place and the need to take account of the pandemic restrictions.

The pandemic led to other new guidance, such as Frequently Asked Questions on the voiding of candidacy rules for the postponed 2020 elections, and guidance on sponsorship and valuing digital conference stands for party conferences. Finally, we continued to update our guidance where appropriate, including changes arising from the UK’s departure from the European Union.

We continued to use our investigation and sanctioning powers to identify and respond to non-compliance and deter future non-compliance where appropriate. We imposed financial penalties totalling £34k throughout 2020/21 and accepted the voluntary forfeiture of impermissible funds totalling £9k, removing these from the political finance system. We did not however take enforcement action where reports were delivered late due to the impact of the pandemic.

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