A CONSERVATIVE by-election candidate has accused Barrow Council of working for its “friends” after the local Labour Party was awarded a £10,000 grant through the Covid-19 business support programme.

Ann Thomson, leader of the Labour-led council, has explained that the body “had no discretion” in awarding each of their grants.

Speaking before campaigning in local elections was suspended because of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Niyall Phillips, the Tory candidate in the Hindpool by-election, said: “It’s shocking that the local Labour Party managed to push themselves to the front of the queue and secure a grant of £10,000 for themselves while businesses are struggling to survive.

"We need real change at Barrow Borough Council and we need councillors who work for every part of the town, rather than just themselves and their friends.”

In response Cllr Thomson said the council followed the government’s protocol.

“When the Government awarded councils money to pay grants to businesses it had strict criteria for the awarding of these grants," she said. “Councils had no discretion in awarding them, businesses had to meet the Conservative Governments criteria otherwise the grant had to be refused.”

Last week it was revealed that the government had allocated the council £16.8 million for businesses applying for the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. £11.8 million of this fund was handed out to firms, meaning £5million was returned to the government in funding that was not claimed by businesses.

Jay Zaccarini, who is the Conservative’s candidate for the Roosecote by-election, said: “I’m shocked and disgusted that the Labour-led council have returned millions to the Government that should have been used to support local people and businesses to bounce back and build back better from the pandemic.”

Deputy leader of the council Lee Roberts refuted Mr Zaccarini’s argument, saying: “If this is the kind of misinformation and political games we can expect then it is very concerning and disappointing. It is insulting to the voters and is unfair and unjust to council staff who cannot respond. Staff who have been working extremely hard during the most challenging times and continue to do so.”

Cllr Thomson added: “The council acted really aggressively to make sure every business that was eligible was paid out. The Government had assessed how much business grants a council would receive by previous business rates paid, obviously, unfortunately some of these businesses had ceased trading.”

In a joint statement, Mr Phillips and Mr Zaccarini said: “If we’re elected on May 6, we will champion the people’s priorities in council. We will put you and your family at the centre of our work each and every day to get Barrow moving forward again.”