LAST year’s Mayor of Hyndburn has defended an "unusual" method of raising cash for his charity fund which has sparked a storm of protest.
Councillor Tony Dobson announced last week that he and his wife Trish had raised a whopping £90,000 during their year in office and boasted that this was five times more than any other Mayor in the history of the borough.
But an Observer investigation has revealed that he achieved this huge total by asking schools and other charities to make donations which he then repaid with a 10 per cent "top-up".
Mount Carmel RC Science College, of which he is a governor, led the way with £30,350 followed by Hyndburn Sea Cadets (£20,000), Hyndburn Stray Dogs in Need (£20,030), the Bethany Project (£4,000), The Hollins Technology College (£3,000) and Accrington and Rossendale College (£2,500).
This left only around £10,000 raised by orthodox means such as the annual Mayor’s Ball and a boxing tournament.
Former Mayor Councillor Doug Hayes, a fellow Conser-vative, said: "This is disgraceful and an insult to the effort every Mayor has put into it in the past.
"My wife Sandra and I have both had the honour of being Mayor and we raised between £15,000 and £18,000 for charity on each occasion. We worked our socks off, even holding little charity sales on Saturday afternoons.
"Now it has been turned into a commercial money-lending operation. I don’t think the Mayor should go about raising funds in this way."
Labour leader Councillor Graham Jones claimed Councillor Dobson was using the kudos gained from raising such a large amount as a springboard for his ambitions to stand as a General Election candidate.
He said: "I feel sorry for the trustees of these charities and innocent fund-raisers to whom all this must have come as a shock."
But the businessman Mayor, the first to operate without forming a charity committee, was totally unrepentant and said he would do the same again.
He said: "I am known for thinking outside the box. That’s the kind of person I am. Just because what I did was unorthodox doesn’t mean it was wrong.
"I organised the annual boxing tournament and it took months of hard work and graft just to raise £3,000 so it became obvious that I needed more partners, particularly with money becoming tighter.
"So I checked everything was perfectly legal and then contacted 20 or 30 organisations and gave them an incentive to raise funds by offering them an extra 10 per cent on what they raised.
"Around seven or eight took me up on it and it reinvigorated their efforts. Far from having regrets it is something I am exceptionally proud of."
But it is known that several charities approached by the Mayor were far from keen on the idea. One was the East Lancashire Hospice which declined to take part, believing it was "inappropriate".
Critics have also pointed out that the honorary president of Stray Dogs in Need is Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe, a close associate of Councillor Dobson.
He said he had been unaware of the donation but had since called for a report and was confident the trustees had acted in good faith.
Speaking as council leader, he added: "His way of raising money was original but that does not mean it was wrong and at the end of the day a good number of charities have benefited."
Mr Stephen Hutchinson, treasurer of Hyndburn Sea Cadets, said: "We were advised that this was the way the Mayor’s Charity Fund was being run this year. It provoked quite a debate at our meeting and some people were strongly against it.
"But in the end we voted in favour because it was the only way we were going to get anything.
"We have benefited from the fund in the past and we didn’t want to get left behind."
Mr John Brindle of the Bethany Project, which helps orphans in Tanzania, said Councillor Dobson had been very supportive of the charity and had attended fund-raising events at the college, of which he is a former governor.
He said: "We were told if we gave money to the Mayor’s Fund he would add a little bit on to it."
Principal Stephen Carlisle confirmed: "Tony has been to a lot of our events and has played a full part in our fund-raising."
The Hollins Technology College said its £3,000 donation consisted of £1,000 raised from a charity event and £2,000 from winning a recycling challenge.
This year’s Mayor, Councillor Pam Barton, said: "Every Mayor has their own way of fund-raising but I’m extremely concerned about the impact this will have on my charity.
"We have already started fund-raising for my Mayoral year. I have a committee and we’re doing it the old-fashioned way be raising money through tombolas and blood, sweat, and tears. Meeting people from the local community is what it’s all about.
"We have chosen the local branch of Macmillan Nurses as our charity because they do wonderful work."
Do you approve of Councillor Dobson's fundraising methods? Click on 'Submit comment', e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and vote in our online poll on the right of this page.