The Conservative Party has come under fire after auctioning off internship places at leading City and PR firms for the children of wealthy backers during a fundraising event last week.
The move comes at a time when youth unemployment is hitting 20% and work experience is deemed crucial to future job prospects in a highly competitive jobs market.
According to the Mail on Sunday, however, 900 Tory supporters paid a minimum of £400 per head to attend its Black and White Party, formerly known as the Winter Ball, at which an auction of 30 lots took place, including a number of internships. Millionaire backers paid an average of £3,000 each to ensure that their children had a chance to undertake work experience at the companies involved.
The internships on offer included five places at City firms, which went for a total of £14,000. A fortnight at CMC Markets went for £3,000, while a week at hedge fund Caxton Associates raised £2,500. A week at private bank Arbuthnot Latham and brokerage firm ICAP, which is owned by former Tory Treasurer Michael Spencer, were also valued at £3,500 and £3,000 respectively.
Other internships on the list included a week at PR company Bell Pottinger, former advisors to Lady Thatcher (£2,000), a week at Amanda Wakeley’s fashion business in Chelsea (£2,000) and two weeks at society magazine The Tatler (£4,000).
The Conservative Party is believed to have generated a total of £500,000 from its fundraiser, from which the press were banned.
But its controversial internship auction raised a storm of criticism. Former Labour minister Caroline Flint said in a message on Twitter that the auction “exposes full extent of privilege that still is the Tory DNA. Internships bought by the bank of rich mums and dads at PM fund-raiser”.
Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of MHP Communications, also told PR Week that the timing of the revelations was “particularly unfortunate” for the Tories as the situation raised questions around privilege and jobs in the very week that Prime Minister David Cameron was trying to defend his ‘Big Society’ concept as a whole.
He added: “Internships should be given to candidates based on talent, and should be paid, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to benefit from them, regardless of whether the intern’s background is privileged or less fortunate. It is disappointing to see internships treated as a prize commodity.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “It was a private event and we will not be commenting on it.”