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County Council leader Geoff Driver calls for auditors to investigate payments of £.5m council health and wellbeing grants

County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council
County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council

The Tory leader of Lancashire County Council wants auditors to investigate how £500,000 of grants were distributed in the dying days of the previous Labour administration at County Hall.

County Coun Geoff Driver will submit a motion to a meeting of the full county council tomorrow expressing concern about circumstances surrounding payment of the council’s ‘Neighbourhood Health and Wellbeing Initiative’ grants.

County Coun Azhar Ali, leader of the Labour opposition group at Lancashire County Council

County Coun Azhar Ali, leader of the Labour opposition group at Lancashire County Council

His motion says the grants were awarded in February and March with no vetting by council officers of either applicants or proposed use.

It also questions the role of Coun Azhar Ali, current leader of the Labour opposition group, stating: “There was no budget provision for these grants which were paid on the recommendation of individual county councillors and authorised by Coun Ali, then cabinet member for health and wellbeing....It is of particular concern that almost £300,000 of these grants were recommended and authorised by Coun Ali himself.”

But Coun Ali has hit back saying the motion was “vindictive and malicious”.

He said: “It was a transparent process. I would welcome any scrutiny. I consulted with him and other group leaders to try to put more money into third sector local voluntary organisations.” There were all sorts of schemes money went into across Lancashire. Would he begrudge those small community groups and church groups that do such fantastic work? I’m proud of my record.”

He said all councillors were invited to nominate projects for grants and those to benefit ranged from people with learning disabilities to dementia groups.

The council will be asked to request external auditor Grant Thornton investigates the manner in which grants were recommend, approved and paid and report back to the council’s audit, risk and governance committee.

• The motion is one of seven being put by councillors for debate at the full council meeting. Other subjects under discussion will include: flooding in the county, British Gas price rises, home education, "holiday hunger" hitting poor families, funding for refuges for victims of domestic abuse and changes to benefit payments, the council's cycling and walking strategy and finally a call for the council to increase its commitment to animal welfare and encourage more pupils to eat vegetarian meals.