A Burntwood councillor has questioned the “secrecy” around a climate change funding scheme in Staffordshire.
Grants have been issued by Staffordshire County Council to support environmental projects in the region.
But the scheme has since led to the suspension of Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd, representative for Burntwood North, from the controlling Conservative group over issues surrounding funding he received before his election to the county council.
Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of Burntwood Town Council, said she had been asking for details of where funding had been allocated for “many months” – and questioned why there had been a reluctance to supply the details.
“I have been asking for publication on the list of grants awarded for many months now, in fact since March at least.
“It’s recorded in the county council minutes, while Cllr Charlotte Atkins, the opposition leader at the county council, has also been asking for this information.
“Not only have we been asking formally at council meetings, we have also been asking members and officers informally, but the promises to get the list never materialised.
“It became almost laughable that no one would give us this list. Laughable, were it not about the proper use of public funds which is no laughing matter.
“The constant stone-walling certainly annoyed me as this is about transparency around the use of public money and accountability of individual members.
“In the end, I had to resort to a Freedom of Information request.”Cllr Sue Woodward, Burntwood Town Council
The results of Cllr Woodward’s request eventually revealed that Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd had been awarded £924 before he was elected for “tree planting”.
The scheme saw groups apply for funding through county councillors – with this particular instance seeing the money awarded via former Conservative councillor Helen Fisher, who has since gone on to become Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire.
Cllr Woodward said that while she did not wish to comment directly on the inquiry into Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd – who was her successor as a county councillor – she said the delays in releasing the list of projects funded had raised more questions than answers.
“I was keen to get the information in order to share best practice and pick up good ideas from around the county to help address climate change here in Burntwood, as well as ensuring there was no duplication.
“There are only so many trees that can be planted and I know this is a question that has also been raised by local environmental groups.
“But there are now even more questions that the county council and its lead members need to answer, especially why all the secrecy?”Cllr Sue Woodward, Burntwood Town Council
The data revealing the organisation, the type of project, the councillor who allocated the funding and the amount has now been released to Cllr Woodward.
The spreadsheet reveals a total of 122 organisations received funding totalling more than £74,000.
Cllr Simon Tagg, cabinet member with responsibility for climate change at Staffordshire County Council, said it had taken time to pull together the information.
“Climate change affects all of us but we know that if we all come together and do our bit, including community groups, we can make a difference which is why we introduced our Climate Change Fund.
“The fund has already benefited 115 local projects since launching in 2020. As with all county council funding opportunities, processes are in place to ensure funds are allocated appropriately and fairly.
“The information is available, but time-consuming to pull together in a publicly presentable format.
“A summary was published in the Climate Change Annual Report 2020 and the full list sent to Mrs Woodward three weeks ago.”Cllr Simon Tagg, Staffordshire County Council
“Concerns were raised”
Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd has so far declined to comment on the issue despite repeated requests from Lichfield Live.
Although Nature Nurture is listed as a beneficiary of the funding, the registered name of his company is Nature Nuturing.
Records show Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd’s company was incorporated in July 2020, but no confirmation statement for the community interest company was made by the deadline in August this year, meaning the company is now listed to be struck off and dissolved.
The company – which has Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd detailed as a sole director – is listed as carrying out activities for the elderly and disabled and supporting performing arts, as well as undertaking activities linked to sport and botanical and zoological gardens.
A spokesperson for the controlling Conservative group at Staffordshire County Council confirmed he was currently suspended:
“Ambition with the climate change fund was to make it easy and accessible so the governance around it was light touch – however, we have discovered it was perhaps a little too light touch.
“We are now undertaking steps to rectify this.
“Some concerns were raised about money Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd applied for before he became a councillor.
“Pending those enquiries and discussions with the monitoring officer, Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd is suspended from the Conservative group at Staffordshire County Council.”Staffordshire County Council Conservative group spokesperson