Town's owner funds political call centre

IPSWICH Town's multi-millionaire owner Marcus Evans is bankrolling a Liberal Democrat election call centre being set up at the club's Portman Road ground.

Graham Dines

IPSWICH Town's multi-millionaire owner Marcus Evans is bankrolling a Liberal Democrat election call centre being set up at the club's Portman Road ground.

A redundant gym has been converted into a state of the art telecommunications centre, which will become home to specially recruited temporary workers using banks of phones and IT computers.

Most of the staff will be students, who will work during the evenings cold calling voters to rally support for the Liberal Democrats and party leader Nick Clegg.

Mr Evans is one of the Lib Dems' biggest backers, but instead of cash he prefers to pay for services in kind. Two years' ago, he made �1million available to establish a national phone bank, with call centres around the country, as part of the party's big push in the run-up to the general election.

His “gift in aid” involves providing IT support, staff and equipment to set up the call centre network, with the main operations base in central London.

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In the last few weeks, temporary staff have been recruited for the Portman Road centre and training is due to start next week, led by Ian Horner, the Lib Dems' regional campaigns and publicity organiser.

Simon Clegg, ITFC chief executive, stressed the club was not politically motivated and it would be prepared to rent space to other political parties if asked.

The contract had been facilitated by Mr Evans but the commercial discussions had been between the party and Mr Clegg.

Ed Maxfield, who is supervising the set up of the network, said the aim was to provide party volunteers in target constituencies with detailed information on voter preferences and key issues.

“We will be building up a picture of likely Lib Dem voters and the issues that will motivate them to support the party.”

A spokesman for Nick Clegg party said: “Marcus Evans continues to be a valued supporter and this will be an important element of what will be an exciting national campaign.”

A senior Labour Party activist and Ipswich Town supporter, who did not wish to be identified, said: “I'd have thought Marcus Evans ought to be concentrating his efforts on keeping Ipswich in the Championship rather than dabbling in politics with a far from Championship outfit like the Liberals! “Will we hear cries of “Come on you yellows" from the converted Gymnasium?”

Ipswich borough council's planning department said it would need to see the detail of the proposal before deciding whether an application was needed for a change of use certificate. A spokesman said: “We should have been notified officially by the club of what it was intending.”

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