A fiery county hall debate saw further criticism levelled at the Northamptonshire County Councillors who did not manage to spend all of the fund meant to help projects in their ward.
In yesterday’s Chronicle & Echo, we reported how a handful of councillors had barely dipped into their 2015/16 empowerment fund, a £7,000 grant given to each elected member to spend on projects in their community.
Councillor Andy Mercer (Con, Rushden South) was found to have spent just £100 on a theatre workshop, with the top five smallest spenders all from the Conservative bench.
Speaking at the full council meeting yesterday, several opposition councillors questioned how some could end the year with a nearly full balance intact.
Councillor Elizabeth Coombe, (Lab, Brickhill and Queensway) said: “I was concerned to read in the paper about councillors that have used their full allocation.
“In Brickshill and Queensway we would have more than welcomed some of that money.
“A lot of the requests we get are for things across the borough or county.
“If you do have amounts that you don’t feel able to use, though I find that hard to believe, we would welcome it in Brickshill land Queensway.”
Brandishing a copy of the Chron’s story, Councillor Dennis Meredith (Lib Dem, Talavera) said his ward in the east of Northampton would have no problem finding a use for the £7,000.
He said: “It’s one of the functions of being a councillor that I enjoy the most.
“I’m so surprised that someone spent £100 from his fund.
“I have a lot of projects where I can help young people - why don’t you give me some of it?
“I could spend £7,000 in 10 minutes in my ward... I could spend £100,000.”
However Labour group leader Councillor John McGhee (lab, Kingswood) felt the Chron had “played up” the empowerment fund story, saying some may have had projects in the pipeline that fell through.
Cabinet member for finance Councillor Robin Brown (Con, Woodford & weedon) even asked the Chron to issue an apology saying the story was not “factual”.
He said the story did not take into account “the level of funding this year” which he said councillors still had months to spend.
The Chron’s story was based on official figures from 2015/16 released by the county council itself. Any money not used within that financial period, between April and April, could not have been rolled over into the next year. The Chron does not intend to issue an apology.
During the meeting Councillor Mercer said he did have a number of projects up that fell through before the deadline.
Councillor Mercer did, in fairness spend £10,123 in the 2014/15 year on community projects, having rolled over a sum of £3,123 from the year before.
Of that he spent £3,000 on a night shelter for the East Northamptonshire Faith Group.