According to the official UK Parliamentary Glossary, Short Money is "the common name given to the annual payment to Opposition parties in the House of Commons to help them with their costs", being named after Edward Short, who was the Leader of the House of Commons at the time the measure was first introduced. It is the major, but not the only method by which political parties in the United Kingdom are publicly funded.
The origin and nature of Short Money
The idea of providing public money to help opposition parties carry out their parliamentary duties was first suggested by Harold Wilson's Labour Government which took office in March 1974.
It was in the Queen's Speech of the 12th March 1974 that the Government announced that it was considering "the provision of financial assistance to enable Opposition parties more effectively to fulfil their Parliamentary functions". The Leader of the House of Commons, Edward Short later made a statement to the House in July 1974 in which he noted that the "whole House" had "benefited greatly from the Rowntree scheme", (being a series of corporate contributions made by the Rowntree Social Services Trust to the main political parties) and so argued that "more permanent arrangements" were "now necessary". Having had "very helpful discussions with the parties opposite" he now planned to "bring firm proposals before the House in the autumn". As it turned out matters were delayed by the General Election of October 1974, but his "firm proposals" were eventually approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on the 20th March 1975 by a vote of 142 to 47.
What rapidly became known as the Short Money scheme was confined to parties having at least two Members elected at the previous general election, or one Member elected and a minimum of 150,000 votes cast, with the qualifying parties receiving £500 per seat and £1 for every 200 votes cast in their favour, subject to an overall maximum of £150,000 per party. The amounts payable were subsequently increased in 1978, 1980, 1983, 1985 and again in 1988, whilst in 1987 the overall maximum that parties were entitled to was removed. In 1993 a new resolution was passed which established a mechanism to automatically increase the amounts payable in line with inflation each year, introduced an additional payment to cover the cost of travelling in relation to parliamentary business, and also changed the period of accounting from a calendar year to a financial year.
The Neill Committee, otherwise known as the Committee on Standards in Public Life, produced its fifth report in October 1998 which inter alia recommended an increase in funding to enable opposition parties to "discharge their roles more effectively". The recently elected Labour government accepted this recommendation and out forward a new resolution which was agreed on the 26th May 1999 and more than doubled the amounts payable, whilst also introducing a specific additional sum to fund the office for the Leader of the Opposition.
Short Money allocations for the financial year 2008/2009 are based on an allowance of £13,890.00 for each seat and £27.74 per 200 votes gained at the General Election of 2005, together with an additional travel allowance and a further payment of £647,112.00 to fund the office of the Leader of the Opposition. The amounts received by the various parties will therefore be;
Sinn Fein is notably absent from this list for the simple reason that Short Money is paid to opposition parties to assist them in carrying out their parliamentary duties, and is therefore not available to those parties whose members refuse to take their seats in Parliament and therefore have no parliamentary duties to carry out. In the light of the Northern Ireland peace process this was viewed by the government as being unhelpful, and so on the 8th February 2006 the House of Commons approved an additional scheme, commonly known as 'representative money' which allowed Sinn Fein to receive funds calculated on exactly the same terms as Short Money. The main difference being that Sinn Fein is permitted to spend the money on such things as press, publicity and other "representative functions" which are not permitted under the Short Money scheme.
The use of the money
Short Money is provided to "assist an opposition party in carrying out its Parliamentary Business" and is therefore restricted to funding expenditure "necessarily incurred by an opposition party's spokesmen in relation to the party's parliamentary business", whilst the payment of travelling expenses is naturally restricted to the cost of travel "necessarily incurred" in carrying out "parliamentary business". Similarly the sums provided to fund the office for the Leader of the Opposition can only be used to pay for the "costs necessarily incurred" in running said office. The recipients of Short Money are required to submit a certificate from an independent professional auditor within nine months of the year end to the Accounting Officer of the House confirming that the money has indeed only been spent in the permitted fashion.
Unfortunately the regulations include no specific definition as to what constitutes "parliamentary business" as opposed to "party political activities", and it is largely up to the parties concerned to decide for themselves where the boundary lies. Fraser Kemp, the Labour member for Houghton and Washington East emerged in September 1999 to complain about the "possible misuse of funds", in that Short Money was being used to fund "party political activities". Nothing came of this complaint however, nor was it likely to, since of course today's government is tomorrow's opposition.
There is a similar scheme which funds the opposition parties in the House of Lords which is known as Cranborne Money, after the Leader of the House of Lords, Viscount Cranborne, whilst additional public funding is also made available to parties to assist in the development of policy in the form of what are not surprisingly known as Policy Development Grants.
- Glossary - Parliamentary Jargon Explained
Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties (Short Money or Cranborne Money)
- The Funding Of Political Parties In The United Kingdom:
The Government's proposals for legislation in response to the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, July 1999
- Oonagh Gay, Isobel White and Richard Kelly, The Funding of Political Parties, Parliament and Constitution Centre Research Paper 07/34, 10 April 2007
- Richard Kelly, Short Money, Parliament and Constitution Centre Standard Note: SN/PC/01663, 6 May 2008