The UK Libertarian Party mislaid four times it’s current revenue

A further dramatic aspect of the General election was when Andrew Withers – once treasurer of LPUK – resigned his role of leader within 24 hours of the polls opening, effective at the next AGM. This sounds mad, but for someone with such a toxic history it made electoral and practical sense. In fact it is the best thing he ever did.

With Andrew Withers set to go there is a possibility that his party may become a useful institution, one to be approached with caution at first but ultimately supportable and one day, I hope, electable. Whether that happens will depend on bright diligent people taking the helm and moving things forward. Part of moving forward will to be reconcile with the past and to make amends to the activists who were mistreated. However, I had given up on all that and now I have some catching up to do.

It seems that one of the ways to reconcile with the past would be to make a statement in the public accounts, acknowledging that prior statements of income and expenditure implied a cash position that was materially different from the real position. In fact, that short sentence – above a signature – would be a real help as it would be an official acknowledgment that expenditure had not been accounted for (which it had not). Before banging the drum for such a statement, I thought it wise to check one had not already been made. The answer? Well it has and it hasn’t.

The documents LPUK uploaded did not make any comment on the problem. They did not even state a bank balance, but lo! What is this? In the metadata attached to the documents for 2012 and 2013 someone has supplied a value for “cash at bank and in hand”, would it be possible to trace through all the filings and find out how large the accounting discrepancy had been? Since there has not been a restatement it made sense that it would.

This is the data I collected, I have not tried to account for loans but the party only declared £580 of loans:


My formulas are highlighted yellow, white cells contain transcribed values. The Calculated Balance is simply the sum of money earned and spent. In the two years where a bank balance is declared the discrepancy is a steady £4098.44. So, finally, the party has essentially admitted – by stating contradictory numbers – that it’s accounts do not contain all the transactions that occurred, or else contain incorrect ones. The problem will have occurred between 2007 and 2010, a period in which Andrew Withers was, for the largest part, the treasurer.

The amount is small in national terms, but relative to the individual contributor it is huge, and of great importance. It was 27.9% of peak income and it is now equivalent to four times current income, after members fled. This is important because in order to continue trading the LPUK must attract a steady flow of donations. If you were donating £100 now, what percentage of that money is at risk? If as an activist, you attract 100 new members to the party, how many will end up angry frustrated and betrayed, rather than represented empowered and enabled? Why should anyone pay LPUK cash, or even any attention, unless and until it acknowledges the seriousness of the problem faced by its supporters?

But who do we expect to acknowledge it? The way this information was disclosed matches exactly the controversial loan that landed Andrew in hot water in the first place. That loan was mentioned to the chairman Nic Coome within earshot of half the NCC and a cluster of activists, myself included. But it was skipped over lightly and Andrew ploughed on with the conversation, not giving anyone time to digest what they heard – keeping the NCC informed but effectively ignorant. Placing the bank balance on an obscure website while the only careful critic of the party had moved onto getting married and having babies is directly from that playbook. So expecting Andrew Withers to redeem himself is false hope.

What about the now-treasurer Nic Coome? It would (should) have been him who uploaded the data to the Electoral Commission. I can only assume that he has done so honestly and accurately with respect to the current figures and the forms in front of him. The strange pivot table format of his documents show a keeness to reconcile practical reality with the priorities of the Electoral Commission, this is the behavior of an honest actor. But what of the Treasurer’s duty to the members and to the public? The figures lodged with the Electoral Commission, over time, have contradicted each other. Nic was well aware of the potential for that since he was involved in my prior investigation into the balances and he had a duty to publicly acknowledge the discrepancy. Imagine if Tesco, who recently restated their finances, had simply announced contradictory numbers and left the contradiction to be discovered by journalists? As it is the Serious Fraud Office are investigating Tesco.

Nic is a close ally of Andrew Withers and he has let that closeness affect his judgement. The accounts 2012 accounts should have been accompanied with an apology. Instead he resorted to the kind of tactics libertarians criticise in others, of trying to bury bad news. The original problem which allowed four thousand pounds to be mislaid was a resigning matter for Andrew Withers, now Nic Coome has added a further shameful chapter to that story yet both are still in office.

The sooner libertarians in the UK give up on LPUK, and take their Facebook likes elsewhere, the sooner the impersonal cruelty of our current political system will end. The figures currently bed-blocking at the top of this party are a part of the nation’s problem.

LPUK’s accounts investigation update

Back in October people were looking to me to work with Nic Coome to establish some transparency in the LPUK accounts, the idea was to try to heal the rift by establishing what had happened, if anything, to all the money. Recall that various accusations had destroyed trust in the leadership and caused a bust up. I am now going to report on how that investigation went, though I am sorry I did not get far.

At our meeting in October, there was anger and concern at what had occurred when the NCC and then the membership were both refused access to the accounts back in April 2011. This time Nic promised that “the bulk of it” (that’s the expenditure) could be accounted for and we left with the impression we would now see some detail from the ledgers. We had agreed a reasonable and mature standard that it was okay if some of it could not be fully explained.

After that, I corresponded with Nic and received copies of the NI and GB statements, which were already available online at the Electoral Commission. Rather than complaining that I had received nothing new, I set about doing what I do to my own accounts every year – checking the bank balance was correctly reflected.

Theory and Maths

Care should be taken never to mislead by giving incorrect data in financial statements because they are used to judge the overall financial state of an enterprise. Diligent firms will check the statements before extending significant credit to a company and they expect them to be a true guide. The cash flow statement, which the LPUK accounts strongly resemble, is there specifically as a guide to whether short term cash might be found to pay a bill.

Knowing the bank balance is an important check on the accounts. Statements of account for a commercial company would contain a cash at bank value that should match exactly to the bank statement. You might have judged that the cash flow out of the enterprise is manageable but what if the real rate of spending was higher? The bank balance check tells you if it could have been higher. Also, a large current account balance tells you how much money was physically there in the bank account at year end, making it easy to judge whether your bill might be paid.

LPUK’s statements don’t include a balance but luckily there is a direct relationship between cash flow and the final balance and you can calculate the latter:

If we that assume an enterprise:

a) starts with £0,

b) has annual income of £2, and

c) expenses of £1

then over three years (2-1)+(2-1)+(2-1)=3 is what you expect to see in the bank at the end.

It’s also worth knowing that (2-1) on it’s own is called your “net annual income”, £1 in this example.

1+1+1 also equals 3 proving the sum of net income is a handy shortcut to the balance.

LPUK’s figures

In 2007 Patrick Vessey filed a nil return for the annual accounts. Zero in and zero out. The rest of the information you need is all given for comparison purposes in the 2010 accounts for GB and NI parties, which are accounted for separately.

I added up all the net annual income values and got £4307.03, here are the same figures excerpted from the public documents.

Click through for the full PDF version downloaded from the Electoral Commission:

GB Accounts, 2010

NI accounts, 2010

It is now neccesary to speculate what the bank balance was supposed to be on 31st December 2010. That’s the value for comparison and unfortunately Nic Coome’s co-operation ended when I asked for it by email in October 2011. I did chase for this again in December 2011, on 12th March 2012 (Monday last), and again via Facebook. No acknowledgement of any kind was received.

The balance figures I have seen relate to a single bank account and average around £100 in November 2010 and about £60 in April 2011. I had to get those from NCC members on this side of the rift, but they demonstrate that LPUK’s balance was small and varied only by tens of pounds.

There was also a rumour of a £0.26 balance no later than May 2011, and at the October 2011 meeting Nic Coome mentioned that he put in £500 of his own. The Party also owes my company £30 from June 2011.

What might this mean?

The accounts investigation has yielded no new data so I can only give my opinion. First, let’s visualise that the facts and rumoured values listed above, and add a line to fill in the blanks by assuming a gradual change in the financial posiotn of the LPUK:


Visualisation of confirmed value, the calculated December value, confirmed and rumoured values, total debt; and assumed changes (dotted) for LPUK’s primary bank account balance.

The party was not used to getting large amounts in donations, so we would not expect the balance to change by more than a few hundred pounds at a time. As such the balance implied in the statement of accounts is, at best, surprising. To be accurate it must have risen then fallen again by £4200. What explains that yo-yoing? What good reason is there for the bank balance to be such a secret that the reconciliation must be called off without a further word?

We know that the Party used a second account to process incoming donations, and also used Paypal. If at least £4200 of donations were received in November or remained unprocessed from earlier then the matter can be left here, but that would have represented a dramatic peak in donations. I believe it is unlikely that £4200 suddenly appeared only to disappear again by April. Also the receipt of that much money would still leave a question over why the party had to maintain £530 of debt the following year.

Andrew might have taken a loan from the Party account, which might be legit but certainly should have been disclosed when the original scandal over his unpaid personal loans hit the blogs.

Given the above, it is reasonable, I believe, to conclude that there is an accounting discrepancy of approximately £4200 to be resolved.

The most important thing to observe is the behaviour of the leadership team. There has been no private reply to me on these questions, no refusal, not even an acknowledgement. There has not been a single public statement acknowledging my query regarding the bank balance, despite a week and five months being given for the Party’s team to prepare one. This is not how I believe a libertarian party should respond to queries from concerned libertarians.

I hope that this article will finally prompt the disclosure of the bank balance value and supporting evidence. It is hard to imagine good reasons which might have delayed it’s publication. This figure should always have been discernable from the public statements and there are no privacy concerns about it for individuals since it is a single number. If it were somehow private, the time to disclose it confidentially was five months ago. Had it been disclosed my investigation could have moved on and been much more useful to the Party and to the libertarian movement as a whole.

By the summer of 2011 most activists I know had decided it was “him or me” with regards to the scandalised leader and other NCC members. Yet the leader ultimately insisted on staying on and fighting against measures others were taking to preserve the Party. That caused the rift we were attempting to cure in October. Presumably the chairman has been acting in consultation with the leader and his nominated NCC, and for them to play hot and cold to an investigation that was a declared prerequisite to a reconciliation was not in the true best interests of the Party. Ultimately, the South East region continued to hold meetups dissassociated from the Party and the success of those meetups shows what the Party is missing out on by electing to act as it has. For example, had the rift been cured it would have been the Libertarian Party of the UK visiting Occupy LSX at St Pauls cathedral and distributing leaflets to a third of the gathered crowd, not “an internet forum” called Libertarian Home. This closed and secretive behaviour should stop.

Finally, it is important that this discrepency is dealt with. At a minimum the 2011 accounts, due shortly, should leave no false impression that it’s net worth is over £4300 when the Party is in debt to it’s activists and officers.



UPDATE: Unfortunately, the 2012 AGM minutes do not include a statement on this issue. Nic Coome did address the issue of multiple bank accounts citing a lack of awareness of HSBC’s standard procedures on the part of unnamed critics. He may be referring to other critics, but in fact I also bank with HSBC and am aware that the Money Manager account he refers to cannot be used directly for spending purposes, therefore the bank accounts I saw must be the main account as spending was incurred against it. Nic’s comment amounts to a claim that the Money Manager account (+PayPal) contained £4200 which was fully spent within 5 months. This should be trivial to verify, yet has still not been verified. There has been no further comment or communication as of 11/04/12.

UPDATE 28-04-2012: in a party statement “NCC NOTE – 25-04-12” (also labelled NCC NOTE GAVIN WEBB) is a breif mention that the investigation was ignored because none of the people at a key meeting were members. This was not in fact the case. As noted above the rift is not in the interests of the movement so I have once again contacted Nic and Andrew to clarify.

UPDATE June 2013: Wither’s has not contacted the author or provided any further information.