Local Liberal Democrats have responded in astonishment to reports that Harrogate's Conservative Party has used public money intended for small businesses to line their own pockets amid the pandemic.
According to a Yorkshire Live investigation, it appears Harrogate & Knaresborough Conservative Association, under the guise of being a small business, has claimed £10,000 from Harrogate Borough Council via its 'Small Business Grant Fund'.
The Fund was intended to support Harrogate District's small businesses through to first lockdown.
A response from Harrogate Borough Council has stated: "Harrogate Borough Council can confirm the amount of the grant is £10,000" and that "this is for offices and premises for Harrogate and Knaresborough Conservative Association".
Local Liberal Democrats are asking that an independent investigation is conducted into what involvement senior Conservative councillors have had in the process.
Andrew Kempston-Parkes, small business owner in Harrogate, said:
"I've been doing everything I can to keep my business going through these really challenging times, to the point I continued to work even after I broke my foot. Our councils should be doing everything they can to support businesses like mine, because small business give great character to our towns and villages.
"So, to hear that local taxpayers' money, meant for supporting our area's small businesses, has been used to line the pockets of Harrogate & Knaresborough Conservative Association, well, I was appalled.
"£10,000 is a lot of money. During the first lockdown, it was the difference between my business surviving or failing. I highly doubt this is the case for the Conservatives which, frankly, I don't even consider a business.
"This is nothing short of greedy and I am sure most people would consider it a misappropriation of public funds. They saw an opportunity and took the money and ran. They should give the money back straight away."
Commenting, Michael Newby, Chair of Harrogate & Knaresborough Liberal Democrats, said:
"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.
"I find it difficult to understand how the Conservative Party could possibly justify their application. This fund shouldn't be there for political parties to line their own pockets during a national crisis."
Councillor Pat Marsh, Leader of the Opposition on Harrogate Borough Council, added:
"There ought to be an independent investigation into what involvement senior Conservative Party councillors have had in this process.
"I find it frankly disgusting that when so many local businesses are struggling and have received absolutely no support during this pandemic, Harrogate & Knaresborough's Conservative Association is seemingly lining its own pockets at the taxpayers' expense."