Handful of Northants councillors barely touched grant meant to help their local communities, figures reveal

Andy Mercer spent just �100 of his councillor's empowerment fund in 2015/16.
Andy Mercer spent just �100 of his councillor's empowerment fund in 2015/16.

Nearly £80,000 of a fund given to Northamptonshire councillors to hand to community projects in their wards went unspent last year, figures have revealed, with one Tory member using up just £100 of his £7,000 allocation.

The Councillor Empowerment Fund was introduced at Northamptonshire County Council in 2007 for elected members to spend on projects within their division.

The scheme has proved incredibly popular, with small grants dished out to set up youth projects, pay for bonfire night events and establish coffee mornings.

Overall feedback from recipients of the grants has a 99 per cent approval rate.

But figures set to go to full council on Thursday show that some councillors barely dipped into their £7,000 allocation - and the smallest spenders were from the controlling party.

Conservative councillor for Rushden South Andrew Mercer spent just £100 from his fund, towards a looked-after children’s annual awards event.

Cllr Mercer also sits on Rushden Town Council and East Northants Council.

Former Wellingborough mayor and fellow Tory Councillor Graham Lawman, for Croyland and Swanspool, only spent £1,000 on a set of regional youth theatre festival workshops.

Riverside Park Councillor Stephen Legg still had £5,650 left in his coffers by the end of the financial year in April.

However he says he had made an agreement with the highways department to use that remaining balance on funding improvements to Hillcrest Avenue in Spinney Hill.

Councillors Mercer and Lawman have been approached for comment.

But Liberal Democrat Councillor Sally Beardsworth, who has always spent her allocated empowerment fund, says the funds are there to be used for good.

She said: “These councillors clearly aren’t in touch with their community.

“As councillors, we are there to help people get things off the ground - we should be facilitators.

“For people that need a little extra help, an extra £100 here and there can be a lot of money.”

Between May 2015 and April 2016 a total of £319,113 was spent on 460 projects in the county.

Until the 2014/15 year councillors had been able to carry forward funds over the four-year administrative period in order to “save up” for larger projects.

However, that option is no longer available and councillors are required to spend their allocated funding within the limits of each financial year.

Councillors were advised that if they had any unspent funding remaining during 2015/16 it would be returned to the council’s central budget.

Last year just under £30,000 went unspent, but this year that figure has risen dramatically to £78,236.

TOP FIVE councillors with the most remaining of their £7,000 empowerment fund:

Any Mercer, Rushden South: £6,900.

Graham Lawman, Croyland and Swanspool: £6,000

Stephen Legg, Riverside Park: £5,650

Michael Tye, Rushden Pemberton West: £5,350

Sylvia Hughes, Irthlingborough, £4,920