A councillor at the centre of a controversy over funding for a Burntwood tree planting scheme that never went ahead has permanently left the Conservatives.
Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd had been suspended for six months by the party group at Staffordshire County Council after it emerged he had not carried out any of the work he had been given £924 to carry out.
He later stepped down from the Tories at Burntwood Town Council but had not ruled out returning to the Conservative ranks at the county council.
But a party spokesperson confirmed he had now left them for good.
“Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd resigned his membership of the Conservative Party on 19th December.
“As he is no longer a member of the Conservative Party, he is not eligible to be a member of the Conservative Group at Staffordshire County Council.”Conservative spokesperson
It means that Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd is now likely to see out his term as an independent member of the county council.
He has refused to comment on any issues since 10th December, when he told Lichfield Live that he was at odds with the party.
“I have f**k all interest in Conservatives who lack the balls to confront me.”Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd, Staffordshire County Council
Although the £924 was never spent on tree planting, Staffordshire County Council and Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd have so far remained tight-lipped over whether or not the money has been repaid, saying only that arrangements have been made for the cash to be returned to the public purse.
But Cllr Rob Birch, a Labour member of Lichfield District Council and Burntwood Town Council, said any agreement which was not repayment in full would be “immoral”.
“As the money has not been spent then I trust it has already been paid back in full? If not where is it?
“There had better not be a monthly payment plan being put in place to return it as that would amount to an interest free loan, which in itself would be immoral and a further misuse of public funds.
“How much has been spent on officers wages sorting this mess out and dealing with the freedom of information requests?
“The administration costs should also be paid back as public money does not grow on trees so to speak – at least not on none-existent ones.”Cllr Rob Birch
How the story has 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 Loughbrough-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, who has since left the authority to become Staffordshire’s deputy police and crime commissioner.
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 ultimately 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 revealed that despite setting up the company, the father of triplets – who lists two addresses in Burntwood and one in Lichfield on his council register of interests – did not submit the required confirmation statement within the first 12 months as necessary, leading to the business being dissolved.
The now independent councillor previously said he had been let down by others over the scheme, which would have seen the trees planted at Chasewater.
“This project was a group project, although the funds were in my name.
“I was let down by others who didn’t give the support I expected and needed.
“The trees were intended to be planted at Chasewater, which the rangers and the organisers of the country park were in agreement with. I had hoped this to be part of something much bigger.
“The trees were to maintained by a group of volunteers who sought to build an orchard and would be self-funding. This did not happen and is a major factor as to why the whole thing fell through.
“The reason for the delay was also because I was moving home straight after the election and the ranger who I was in contact with seemed to not have a nine to five daily working hours, which provided a huge problem during a time when we were leaving lockdown and getting our lives back to normal.
“I have profound autism and my partner who is herself someone who suffers from mental health has seen her social anxiety increase – I feel deeply that this issue needs to be resolved so that she doesn’t have to see stuff like this ever again.”Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd, Staffordshire County Council
But despite his desire to see a resolution, the councillor has remained silent on whether or not he has resolved it by returning the cash given the failure of the planting project to materialise.
Staffordshire County Council said before Christmas that a review into the funding scheme as a whole meant it could not comment on whether the money had been repaid.
A Conservative spokesperson added in December that the authority’s monitoring officer was conducting an investigation which could see the matter handed to the police.
Staffordshire Police told Lichfield Live last week that the issue had not been referred to them.
Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd has previously said he has no intention of standing down from his remunerated position at the county council.
“I intend to stay on as an independent councillor – and I won’t rule out remaining so for the rest of my term as a councillor.
“Resigning – at least from the county council – is something I would not consider.
“One advantage of my current predicament is that for the next few months I will have the ability to express myself more freely and frequently than I have done before on the matters in my division of Burntwood North.”Cllr Thomas Loughbrough-Rudd, Staffordshire County Council
But despite a desire to express himself more freely, Cllr Loughbrough-Rudd has refused to reply to any requests for comment from Lichfield Live since 10th December.