Political row erupts in Harrogate over Conservative association's £10,000 coronavirus support grant

A political row has broken out over Harrogate and Knaresborough Conservative Association's (HKCA) use of a £10,000 coronavirus support grant from the government.

By Jacob Webster
Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 12:07 pm
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 10:51 am

HKCA was awarded the government grant money in April to help pay for ongoing property costs at its offices on East Parade, Harrogate.

But it led to criticism from local Liberal Democrats who accused the association of "lining its own pockets at the taxpayers' expense", with councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition party on Harrogate Borough Council, calling for an investigation into the grant.

She said: "I find it frankly disgusting that when so many local businesses are struggling and have received absolutely no support at all during this pandemic, Harrogate and Knaresborough's Conservative Association is seemingly lining its own pockets at the taxpayers' expense."

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Conservative councillor Graham Swift, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council, and councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Michael Newby, chair of Harrogate and Knaresborough Liberal Democrats, added: "This money was quite clearly intended for supporting small businesses across our district, who have had a really rough time during this pandemic as a result of government restrictions."

However, councillor Graham Swift, chairman of the Conservative association and deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council, defended the grant money which he said political associations across the country were entitled to if they paid business rates and had long term office costs.

He said: "The Harrogate and Knaresborough Conservative Association is a small business and reports its accounts accordingly. It has long term office and property costs and employs people.

"Like all small businesses that qualified, HKCA were awarded their grant in April, no application was required as the government awarded the scheme nationally to all qualifying businesses.

"Our grant was used entirely to fund the ongoing property costs, as the grant was intended. It is not money for campaigning but there to save the business from collapsing."

Councillor Swift also pointed towards reports that national political parties across the UK accepted over £250,000 in furlough funds between 1 April and 30 June.

Under the furlough scheme, the Lib Dems claimed £178,907, the Conservatives £70,164 and Labour £9,914, according to the Electoral Commission.

Councillor Swift added: "It seems strange that the Liberal Democrats are happy to access schemes but are unhappy when others use their grants to maintain their business.

"Most small businesses are having a tough time throughout Covid 19. Incomes have been impacted, business costs are still mounting and the government’s decision to support small businesses was a good one.

"I would encourage everybody to support and appreciate the help that government is providing to keep businesses alive."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter