A PROMINENT councillor has hit back after being accused of letting down the communities he represents by not spending £5,000 given to members to respond to local needs.

Tory colleagues on North Yorkshire County Council levelled criticism towards Norton councillor Keane Duncan after it emerged he was the only member of the authority’s 72 who had not spent his Locality Budget this year, saying giving funds helped local groups attract further grants.

Cllr Duncan, who recently became the country’s youngest local authority leader, at Ryedale District Council, said while some members had spent taxpayers money on “weird and wonderful” items such as a fountain and Lego, he wanted to keep the funding for frontline services such as social care.

The North Yorkshire authority’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee heard the scheme last year saw 71 councillors recommending 405 projects or activities for a share of £350,000 to “directly promote the social, economic or environmental wellbeing of the communities they represent”. The Locality Budgets scheme seeks to ensure councillors have a clear role in the allocation of funding in their division.

A report to the committee stated: “This role includes actively promoting the scheme within their division so that the money is allocated to meet appropriate local needs.”

Sixty-five per cent of the funding was allocated for projects and activities managed by charities and voluntary organisations, while parish, town and district councils were awarded 26 per cent of the funding and schools six per cent.

The largest allocations went to projects and activities supporting vulnerable adults, village and community hall improvements, and non-school activities for children and young people.

After officers reviewed this year’s Locality Budgets, Councillor Andy Paraskos asked: “I’m struggling because only one councillor did not manage to spend anything. Was there a reason for that?”

Officers responded: “Ask the councillor. Officers keep well away from the process. We remind members on a regular basis how much money they have got, but we don’t see it as our role to chase them to spend the money.”

Councillor Caroline Goodrick said: “It’s disappointing. It’s not the councillor that loses out on that money, it’s his communities. It’s really disappointing that communities have lost out on that money.”

Councillor Derek Bastiman added: “It’s not just £5,000. That money could have attracted another £5,000, £10,000 or even £15,000. £300 for a small group could be turned into about £3,000. It shows commitment as well.”

After the meeting, Cllr Duncan, who who recently became the country’s youngest council leader, at Ryedale District Council, said he had chosen to spend the Environmental Locality Budget funding members were given instead.

He said: “I’m disappointed to hear this criticism, especially when it comes from my own Conservative colleagues.

“A fundamental element of the Locality Budget scheme is that each councillor decides how to spend their allocation, or indeed if to spend it at all.

“Weird and wonderful items bought include £300 hand bells, £500 drama costumes, a £900 water fountain, £1,000 gazebo, £2,000 Honda motorbike, £650 lawnmower, £500 Guides trip to Canada, £400 table decorations, £300 of Lego, two £400 wine coolers, a £450 archaeological excavation and a £1,000 firework display.

“My £5,000 this year will instead be available to fund frontline county council services as we face up to the realities of austerity.”