A cash for votes row has erupted with the county’s Labour Party suggesting a Shire Hall plan to give every councillor £50,000 to dish out in their own divisions could lead to election fraud.
Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative cabinet wants to set aside a pot of £2.65 million to be divided up equally among the authority’s 53 councillors to spend on sport and leisure projects, with voluntary and community groups invited to bid for the cash.
But the Active Together scheme has been labelled as a “recipe for trouble” with worries it could lead to councillors and candidates “making promises of cash” in return for votes come election time.
Councillor Steve Lydon (Lab, Dursley), Labour’s spokesman for finance and change, said: “The Active Together policy is an expensive gimmick.
“From a public health prospective it makes no sense, health funds should be targeted to address real health problems in communities with high amounts of health depravation.
“Health inequalities vary significantly across the county. On average people living in Cheltenham can expect to live longer than people in Gloucester and Stroud and this policy will do very little help close the gap.
“Giving councillors £50k to spend in their divisions just months before an election is a recipe for trouble.
“There are too few safeguards in place and I am worried that the policy will give rise to allegations that councillors are using public money to influence the outcome of this year’s local elections.
“Local residents are becoming aware that this funding could be available at the end of the month and councillors are already being approached.
“The Tories to need to make sure that there is a fair and robust framework in place to ensure that when councillors spend this money everything is above board.”
Councillor Dorcas Binns, cabinet member for public health and communities, rubbished the concerns.
“Councils across the country delegate budgets to councillors and have done for many years,” she said.
“In Gloucestershire we already do so with road repair funding as part of Highways Local – which Labour councillors have always supported.
“We’ve never had any problems with this in the past.
“I think it’s pretty sad that Councillor Lydon’s first reaction seems to be ‘what’s the political gain’, rather than ‘what can I do to help the people I represent’.”
The Active Together scheme has been proposed as part of the county council’s next budget.