Saturday, September 15, 2007

Libdemologists: How Do They Print Quite So Much?

Ellee Seymour, aside from running loads and loads of tech product placement in recent posts has commented on yet another Lib Dem leaflet snowstorm.

Apparently there were 17 distinct leaflets delivered through one sample letterbox during Nigel Ayre's campaign period. He's this one >>>>

Let's keep it simple. Say all were A4 double sided, though that will be an underestimate, times say 6000 doors equals 204,000 sides of print. If we allow 1.5 pence per side on a two-colour Risograph that is £3.060 just for the printing.

It may be possible to produce more cheaply. However most Lib Dem leaflets make strong environmental claims about the paper and inks used and this greenery can only be had at a slight premium from rock bottom prices.

In any case it is very hard indeed to come up with a feasible multiplication that doesn't have them overspending massively.

If any of the leaflets were A3 or folded A2 newspaper or four colour or on card or in anyway more costly than the double sided 2-colour A4 budgeted then the scale of the overspend beggars' belief.

My information is that the Lib Dem council in York has been demic. Unable to face decisions. Highly inexperienced as group numbers inflated rapidly in 2003. That may be a tad biased as they gave Labour a post-war kicking in an authority that only does all outs. But they were chopped down to minority administration this year.

In a Tory ward it is understandable that they should win in a by-election. Even without taking the Mick of the spending limits and any pretence of green credentials.

Cllr Nigel Ayre's political interests "cover the environment, youth issues and wider political engagement". Here we have the first and third of these clashing.

Perhaps someone from York Lib Dems could send their budget and an explanation of how they stuck to it with such a snowstorm of leaflets? It should be a requirement to submit print with expenses returns.

UPDATE: The population figures in comments suggest the ward in question is just 30% of the national standard although even the basic 2-colour Riso leaflets for that come out spending the whole budget. Nothing for 'phones. post, envelopes, fuel, posters, committee rooms.


Paul said...

Not entirely sure what your problem is. You know as well as anyone that there's process for challenging expenses returns. Why don't you use it?

Hywel said...

The electorate in Heworth is only just over 3,000 so 6,000 houses would seem to be a huge over-estimate.

Assume 1500 houses, we can then divide your estimate by 4 - which gets £750

The expense limit for a ward that size would be c.£758

I'm not sure if your Riso print prices aren't similarly out - I've used commercial photocopiers which are well less than 1.5p per copy.
Riso quote under 2p per side for their latest full colour machines and refer to "a fraction of a pence per copy"

Added to which it is highly likely that not all houses received all 17 mailings

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Hywel

The figures still don't add up even if £758 is right - it seems like a high limit for such a very tiny ward - all ours are at or around 10,000 in Manchester and we don't get to spend that much more. I thought the Boundaries Commission were trying to standardise wards?

But whatever, does a campaign spend 100% of its allowance on print? Nothing left for telephone, post, envelopes for the inevitable script and targeted letters, posters, committee rooms, stickers, rosettes, PA system, fuel?

Was everything produced in this campaign made on a Riso anyway? No four colour professional print at all? That would be unusual.

On Paul's points:

1. My problem is clear enough. Lib Dems persistently out paper other parties several times to one. Even when all spend the full allowance. This does not add up. You may not agree but I personally think it is grossly unfair if some parties get to put out more literature with impunity simply because they are willing to CHEAT. See below.

2. I am not in York and so cannot examine returns when they arrive as this is generally on a walk in basis only. Perhaps someone would get them and post me a copy? Also scan and publish pics of all the print as someone suggested over at Ellee's?

3. If I were in York and went in to look at the returns these would show some numbers with no examples of the print they refer to and no proof of print runs. Perhaps not even real printers bills particularly on self help production or contrived use of intermediaries. So very hard indeed to check.

4. I have never formally challenged anyone's expenses myself but when I have exercised my right to view these records I have seen lots of bad reporting and sharp practices.

5. The one example I'm aware of of a detailed challenged going to the EC - apart from the tragic case in Mercer's seat - did not even get an acknowledgement from the EC never mind a proper investigation.

6. My belief is that because these returns are so hard to police on supposed cost of print that there should be limits on amount of print instead.

7. In one of the most hypocritical moves I have ever seen Dimon Ashley apparently got copies of all the Labour returns in 2006. Even though it was Leech that famously burnt whole print runs and out published Labour at least five to one. oh, and he only declared £19 on phone costs when he had specially installed phones as well as activists own being worked hard throughout the period.

Best w

Chris P

I think complaints should work differently, I think accounts should be more easily available, that vulnerable donors should be protected, that the Electoral Commission should analyse the norms, and that there should be serious penalties for lying and cheating.

Anonymous said...

Are the people at Riso at all numerate? 2 pence a side in one place and a fraction of a pence in another.

Iain Lindley said...

Chris, the expenses limit for a local election is £600 plus (I think) 5p per elector. This means that the expenses gap between a small ward and a large one is nowhere near as great as you might expect it to be. This makes sense - for a professional print job printing 5000 leaflets is only marginally more expensive than printing 1500. Of course if you stick to a RISO then you get a lot more leaflets per elector in a small ward.

Much as I hate to stick up for the LibDems, if you take a rough figure of £25 per 1000 for printing (and an efficient RISO would come in less than that) and a generous estimate of 1800 properties in a 3000 electorate ward (my general rule of thumb for properties is to divide the electorate by 2 and add a bit), 17 full deliveries is 30000 leaflets, which is £750 at £25 per 1000 - in the right ballpark.

Personally I'd say that is an overestimate of both print costs and number of houses. We also don't know whether the 17 leaflets were all full deliveries - the LD by-election machines often use highly-targeted literature.

That said, your comments about the environment vs additional leaflets are spot on. That's a tightrope we all walk though!

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Iain

We can agree that 17 separate titles is a hell of a lot for an environmentally friendly candidate in a three week by-election, and that spending everything on print is a bit far fetched, and that the amount of professionally printed material this lot put out often beggars belief.

I was looking at one of the London parliamentary by-elections recently and the record of leaflets for both the Tories who saved it and the Lib Dems who leap frogged into second looked three or four or five times the amount of Labour.

And if you made a bar chart from them the amount of print dished out would closely mirror the votes received!

Labour went from 10,000 plus to 2,000 having been way behind on the paper production.

The Labour candidate in that case (a bit of a rising star) would certainly have spent to the limit. So we get this mystery of how the others managed!

There are clearly cases with Labour producing more print than you'd expect for the money too. All three parties in both Ealing and Sedgefield must know some very reasonably priced printers.

I'd prefer limits on bulk not cost.

Best w

Chris P

Picky said...

Should purchase of a Riso etc require a notional cost of machine and where it lives to be included on the copy price?

Iain Lindley said...

The spending limits for Parliamentary by-elections are ludicrous. I pity the agents on all sides who have to fill in the expenses returns.

From my limited time in Ealing (2 days) Labour were clearly outleafleted by both the LibDems and Conservatives. That said, on my first day there Labour were distributing a glossy A2 leaflet, which I thought was a bit on the ridiculous side!

Chris Paul said...

Lib Dem, Labour and Conservatives all pushed the boat out at Ealing. Though Tony lit actually put out an 8pp magazine ... Leech put out by-election amounts in Manchester Withington.

It is easier to hold your nose and accept it when all the parties are doing it. When only one does it stinks more somehow.

But the Electoral Commission still don't do anything much.

Matt Wardman said...

Come of it, all of you. The situation is perfectly obvious.

There are only 2 possibilities:

1 - They own Prontaprint, and it has all been charged to staff cups of tea.
2 - As an incredibly green party they have a 100% recycling operation, and in fact there is only ONE leaflet that is recycled and reprinted 17 times. That way the paper costs very little.