A Freedom of Information request by Rob Pownall of the Keep the Ban group found that the county council gave thousands of pounds intended to help small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis to drag hunting groups. The groups have not been identified.
Shropshire Council said that it was legally obligated to give money to groups that met the Government’s criteria.
Peter Nutting, leader of Shropshire Council, said: “On April 1 – through the Covid-19 Small Business Grant Fund, and Retail Hospitality & Leisure Grant Fund – the Government provided Shropshire Council with £91m to pass on to Shropshire’s small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, providing they meet the criteria set by the Government.
“Businesses in receipt of small business rate relief qualified for a small business grant of £10,000. Business with a rateable value of less than £51,000 that qualify for the enhanced retail, hospitality and leisure relief qualified for a grant of either £10,000 or £25,000 depending on their rateable value.
“There was no other limitation of the award of the grant, so if the businesses referred to met the criteria set by Government – and after Shropshire Council had carried out appropriate due diligence to eliminate the possibility of fraud – there was a legal obligation to award them funding.
~To date this funding has benefited approximately 7,000 of the county’s businesses and provided around £80m of grants into Shropshire’s economy, helping businesses to continue in their premises, re-open to the public and replenish their stocks.”
Drag hunting, where dogs follow an artificial scent, is legal and hunts provide employment both directly and to suppliers across the county.
But Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard said the awarding of the money was “outrageous” and added: “Our rural communities have suffered a decade of austerity and now face more economic pain. They need proper support, not propping up a practice that should be consigned to history books.”