Plymouth City Councillor gives your money to stray dogs
A CITY councillor has given £1,750 of community cash to a charity dedicated to rescuing stray dogs and cats.
Cllr Patricia Nicholson, a councillor for Peverell ward, gave the money to the Gables Farm Dogs' and Cats' Home.
The Herald understands that some of her fellow Conservative councillors are furious that the money has been spent outside Mrs Nicholson's ward, though none would say so openly.
Although Mrs Nicholson represents Peverell on Plymouth City Council, she lives in Plympton, which includes Gables Farm.
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All 57 city councillors receive an annual lump sum under the council's community grant scheme. The amount they get was doubled from £1,750 to £3,500 by the incoming Labour administration this year.
Mrs Nicholson said: "I did spend half of the money on Gables Farm – £1,750. The other half will go to some project we have got in Central Park."
She was unable to give details of the Central Park project, which is being organised by fellow ward councillor Martin Leaves.
"I think the Gables does a good job," Mrs Nicholson said. "My son Patrick has had three dogs from the Gables and it benefits the whole of Plymouth."
Her son is Cllr Patrick Nicholson, who represents Plympton St Mary.
Mrs Nicholson said that council officers had approved the grant. "I live in Plympton and I like the church there, but I wasn't allowed to spend the money on that."
She said she had not consulted Peverell residents. "I don't think anyone else does that, quite frankly. I am sure there are residents in Peverell who have benefited from the Gables."
Fellow ward councillor Dr John Mahoney said he was "reserving judgement".
"We were running up to the [May] election and there were rumours that if we didn't use the money it would be withdrawn," he said. Asked if it was a reasonable use of taxpayers' money, he said: "I'm not saying that."
His own share of the community grant fund is going towards the work in Central Park.
Cllr Martin Leaves said: "Ever since I have been a councillor I have spent every penny in Peverell ward.
"I know Patricia Nicholson is keen on the Gables. That's her choice. I have made sure my money goes into Peverell ward."
He said he and Dr Mahoney were investing most of their community money into a rolling programme of tree maintenance and planting in Central Park. They were also waiting for quotes to put railings at Barn Park Avenue.
Both men also give money to local schools. Mr Leaves said he spent £250 a year to help with maintenance of an environmental garden at Hyde Park Infants.
Council leader Tudor Evans said the money should not go outside Plymouth, but he needed to make inquiries before commenting on Cllr Nicholson's decision.
A council spokeswoman said the money was intended to be used for community groups and charities, or for "small works". The money was often used for projects like installing park railings or benches.
"This allocation of grant money to a local charity does meet the requirements of the scheme guidelines," she said.
Claire Wadsworth, general manager at Gables Farm, said: "Of course we were pleased with the money; anyone would be."
THE HERALD SAYS: A grave error of judgement by a councillor
IT MAY come as a surprise to you that councillors each get £3,500 of your money to spend as they see fit every year.
That is not to say the community grant scheme is a bad thing – councillors are our elected representatives. They are people who have decided to stand up and be counted rather than simply moan from the sidelines. They are community leaders to whom we entrust the future of our city so why not give them the power to provide cash grants to benefit the communities they represent?
Even if the scheme is a surprise to many, once you have given it a little thought you may well come to the reasonable conclusion that it is quite a sensible way of distributing taxpayer funds into the communities that our councillors know so well.
However, these funds are given to councillors in their role as public servants and not as private individuals. Our story today appears to highlight a case where that distinction has been forgotten.
Cllr Patricia Nicholson has broken no rules and her integrity is not in question. But by handing £1,750 of her community grant to an animal shelter which is not even in the ward which she represents she is guilty of a grave misjudgement.
When asked why she chose to use the council’s cash to make the donation to Gables Farm she said she feels the shelter does a good job for Plymouth.
That is certainly true and the Herald supports Gables Farm with publicity whenever we get the chance. But there will be plenty of people in Cllr Nicholson’s ward who will be wondering today why cats and dogs in another part of the city took priority over their needs and may well be contemplating how much good £1,750 could have done for the people of Peverell.
Cllr Nicholson has a commendable interest in supporting Gables Farm but she should do that as a private citizen with her own money.
In the middle of a recession when our council faces massive cutbacks it is entirely inappropriate for her to indulge her personal passion with public funds.