Grantham and Stamford’s Conservative Association received a £10,000 COVID-19 grant during lockdown last year, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
South Kesteven District Council Independent Councillor Ashley Baxter said he submitted the FOI after struggling to “get a straight answer” around the allocation of the Small Business Grant Fund.
The association said the money was used to support small businesses renting office space in its Bourne-based headquarters and was returned once further funding was made available.
The response to the FOI showed that the association applied to InvestSK Ltd, which managed the scheme on behalf of SKDC, on April 22, 2020, and was paid £10,000 the next day.
The money was returned on November 10, 2020.
Councillor Baxter said: “I am delighted that my Freedom of Information has established the facts about the local Conservative Party application for a COVID grants.”
He said he had tried to ask council bosses about the details of the application but had been “met with obfuscation and excuses”.
“The issue concerns the allocation of public money administered by SKDC and given all the highfalutin talk of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’, it is a shame that I have yet again had to resort to a Freedom of Information request to unearth the facts”.
He acknowledged the application had been within the rules, but said he was “pleased” the money had been returned.
Martin Trollope-Bellew, Chairman of the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association, said: “The association was eligible for the small business grant and was accepted on the basis of supporting the small businesses which rent office space within our building, as they weren’t initially eligible for any financial support.
“However, the discretionary grant was then introduced which enabled the businesses based within our building to access funds to support them through this difficult time. The small business grant was then repaid in full.”
Several Conservative associations have come under fire for claiming grant funding during the coronavirus pandemic. An FOI by Huffpost in March found more than 22 local branches of political parties had been handed £10,000 grants.
While the Conservative party said the associations were “no different from other organisations in facing challenging times,” campaign group Excluded UK said it was “very unjust” as businesses elsewhere faced closure.
An SKDC spokesperson said: “For eligible businesses on the business rates register there were no restrictions on the type of organisations that could claim the grants or on what these grants were spent on.
“All those grants paid out were in line with the government guidance.
“As part of the grant acceptance process all applicants were given the opportunity to return the grant should they wish to.”
Conservative Council leader Kelham Cooke was approached for comment but referred the media to the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association.