A Conservative-held council in the North West has come under criticism for handing out tens of thousands of pounds in Covid-19 bailouts to fox hunting groups.
Shropshire County Council’s decision to allocate £50,000 to drag hunts was described as “disgraceful” by MPs and campaigners.
Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard told The Mirror: “It is outrageous that public money is going to support fox hunting. Our rural communities have suffered a decade of austerity and now face more economic pain.
“They need proper support, not propping up a barbaric practice that should be consigned to history books.”
The Hunting Act of 2004 outlawed the killing of wild animals including foxes, deer and hares with packs of dogs.
But campaigners accuse hunts of exploiting loopholes which allow drag hunting – where dogs follow an artificial scent but can pick up a real scent.
Rob Pownall, who uncovered the Shropshire grants with a Freedom of Information request, said: “It’s disgraceful councils have used taxpayer-backed funds to support registered hunts.”
Keep the Ban Group is now contacting other councils to find out how widespread the practice might be.
Shropshire County Council leader Peter Nutting said the cash was part of a £91million government package for the county’s small businesses.
He said: “If the businesses met the criteria there was a legal obligation to award funding.”
Finance director James Walton said: “The council has provided business grants in line with government eligibility criteria and so, if the business is in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief, they are eligible for a Small Business Grant for Covid-19.”