Money handed over to a councillor for a tree planting project will be paid back in full after it emerged it never took place, Staffordshire County Council has confirmed.
Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd was suspended by the controlling Conservative group last month after concerns were raised over £924 he had received prior to his election in May this year.
The money was awarded to his Nature Nuturing company for “tree planting”.
Mystery has surrounded how the funding was used, but Cllr Simon Tagg, cabinet member with responsibility for climate change at Staffordshire County Council, has now confirmed the trees were never planted.
“Cllr Loughborough-Rudd received funding for a project before he became a county councillor.
“Unfortunately the project has not proceeded and measures have been put in place for this funding to be returned to the council in full.”Cllr Simon Tagg, Staffordshire County Council
Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd has regularly been approached for comment by Lichfield Live over the funding since the concerns first emerged.
However, despite insisting on 23rd November that he would provide answers “in the next few days”, he has failed to offer up any public explanation over why the funding was not used and why the money had not been returned sooner.
How the story unfolded…
A Conservative spokesperson confirmed to Lichfield Live on 18th November that Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd had been suspended amid concerns over the money allocated to him prior to his election to the county council.
“The 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
Records obtained via a Freedom of Information request subsequently showed that Cllr Lougbrough-Rudd’s Nature Nuturing – although on the county council paperwork it is spelt as Nature Nurture – was awarded £924 under the scheme via former Conservative councillor Helen Fisher.
No date on when the application was made or funding was handed over was included in a spreadsheet of information relating to the fund:
The Climate Change Fund is administered by Staffordshire County Council with three categories:
- Reducing carbon impact
- Improving air quality
- Adaptation to climate change
The details of who was awarded what was not made publicly available on the county council website, with the Freedom of Information request used to access details over where the funding went.
It showed that a total of £76,074.60 was handed out to 121 organisations across Staffordshire.
Among the recipients was Nature Nuturing Community Interest Company, which lists Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd as a sole director. Records show it was incorporated on 27th July 2020.
But Companies House records now reveal that despite setting up the company, Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd did not submit the required confirmation statement within the first 12 months as necessary.
With the statement still not submitted, an active proposal to strike off the business has now been put forward.
The registration of Nature Nuturing as a Community Interest Company means that it must be run for the benefit of the community.
“Community Interest Companies are limited companies which operate to provide a benefit to the community they serve.”Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies
It would also mean any remaining assets would be subject to an ‘asset lock’ – meaning funds would be redistributed to another, pre-determined community organisation should the company cease to exist.