'TORIES TRY TO UNCOVER THE TRUE COST OF MILBURN'

By Toby Helm

Daily Telegraph – 28 December 2004

The Conservatives moved into election mode yesterday, issuing a formal complaint to the National Audit Office over the Government's refusal to say how much taxpayers' money is being spent on the office of Labour's election supremo Alan Milburn.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister Julian Lewis asked for the assistance of Sir John Bourn, the Auditor General, in ensuring that the figure was made public before the General Election.

Five parliamentary questions to Ruth Kelly, the former Cabinet Office minister, and one to Mr Milburn himself had produced nothing more than an assurance that the sum would be met from the department's existing budget and would be published in its annual accounts – probably after May, the expected date of the election.

Tony Blair appointed his close ally Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in September, with a Cabinet Minister's salary of £130,347 and a brief including co-ordination of Labour's election campaign.

In a letter to Sir John, Dr Lewis said the creation of a separate Duchy post must carry a cost to the public purse beyond Mr Milburn's salary. But Mr Milburn spent "most of his time" working on Labour's election strategy, having given only three speeches and having carried out two visits in his official capacity during November, he complained.

"I believe that a bare-faced attempt is being made to conceal from Parliament and the public the true overall cost of the decision to appoint a separate Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster until after the general election is over,"

he told Sir John.

"There is no valid reason not to disclose the information now, and I seek your assistance in helping me to extract it from this unduly secretive administration."