Ukip is “very, very short of money” and has failed to build up a war chest for the general election yet has still granted Nigel Farage a £60,000 annual chauffeur allowance, The Times can reveal.
Stuart Wheeler, the spread-betting millionaire who has bankrolled the party for years and who served as treasurer until July this year, said Ukip “desperately needs more money”.
Ukip had only £600,000 in the bank at the start of 2014, according to its accounts, and needs several million pounds to fight a successful nationwide general election campaign. Having broken into the political mainstream with the recent by-election wins, it plans to contest every constituency but will focus efforts on 40 target seats.
Although it has secured a number of sizeable donations in the past year, the money has largely been spent on this spring’s European election campaign and on recent by-elections.
Major donors have been allowed to spend their money on pet projects, including private polling, focus groups and direct marketing, rather than handing it over to Ukip’s central office.
“I’m fairly sure that we are very, very short of money,” Mr Wheeler said. “Nigel Farage ideally would like six or seven million to run a perfect general election campaign. It will be a hell of a job, but we will do the very best we can to raise a good proportion of that.”
Despite its unsteady finances, internal documents show that Ukip’s governing committee granted a “Nigel Farage expense allowance” of £60,000 a year from September 2013.
Hugh Williams, Ukip’s registered treasurer, said the money was “because he needs a chauffeur to drive him around the place”, and covered the driver’s salary and motoring costs. “It was totally necessary and there was no hesitation about granting it,” he said.
Mr Williams said the Ukip leader was continuing to receive the chauffeur allowance and that, since last spring, the party had been paying for bodyguards. “We realised when he needed security, we just had to pay for it whatever the bills were,” he said.
Former officials said they were not aware of Mr Farage having received significant amounts of party money previously, and one said that Ukip was “very short of money at the time”.
According to a party budget drawn up in August last year, Ukip expected to have just under £370,000 available for elections last year, £60,000 less than during the previous year.
The Lib Dems, the smallest of the other three major parties, spent almost £5 million at the 2010 general election.
Ukip also had to bear the cost of paying several staff who had previously been funded by EU staffing allowances.
Pete Reeve, a Ukip regional organiser in the east of England, was previously employed on the staffing allowance of Stuart Agnew, the MEP. He has been paid a £28,000 salary by Ukip since September last year, while Steve Crowther, the party chairman, began receiving a £36,000 salary at the same time.
Alexandra Phillips, a press officer, began receiving her £60,000 salary in April 2013. She had previously been paid with EU funds as she was employed by the European Parliament’s EFD group, of which Ukip was a member.
The party also hired Tim Aker as head of policy on £62,000 a year in June 2013. He was elected as an MEP last May, but retains his policy role. In the past year, Ukip has attracted several significant donations but one contributor admitted that wealthy Eurosceptics were reluctant to accept the scrutiny and attention that came with it. “That’s probably still the biggest bar that we face,” he said.
The party has allowed donors to retain control over how their money is used. Paul Sykes, who has given £1.3 million out of the £2.3 million Ukip has reported receiving in donations this year, spent all of the money on a billboard campaign during the European elections. He recently said he did not expect to make further donations and said he was “encouraging all the constituencies to start raising funds so we can be less reliant on major donors”.
A recent attempt to raise money through the crowdfunding software Nationbuilder has brought in £80,000 in small donations and the party has increased revenue from subscriptions. It now has around 41,000 members, each paying between £2 and £30 a year.
Last night, a Ukip spokesman said: “Ukip has over the past year won a national election, gained its first two Westminster seats at by-elections, increased its number of councillors by over 50 per cent and increased its membership by more than 50 per cent, not a bad year considering your concerns over our ability to fight elections.”
• A Ukip MEP was at the centre of an international spat last night after plans to host Egypt’s most senior Muslim cleric were left in tatters. Amjad Bashir, Ukip’s communities spokesman, had invited MPs, peers and diplomats to an audience with the Grand Mufti in London on Friday. However, a spokesman for Shawqi Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allamclaimed that he had never agreed to take part in the event on youth radicalisation. The MEP said that the event would still go ahead with other guests.
You may be interested in the details of the spat with Egypt’s Grand Mufti: