Our business correspondent, MT WALLETTE, reports on how Croydon Council can’t even manage to hand-out millions of pounds of free money from the government
A Croydon Council Labour cabinet member last night pretty much admitted that her strategy for helping the borough’s businesses to cope with the covid-19 shutdown had failed when, just before midnight going into a four-day bank holiday, she sent a desperate-sounding email to every councillor pleading for their assistance.
Previous public announcements from the council’s propaganda department and Croydon BID about government aid for businesses who are unable to continue trading during the pandemic lockdown have been slow in coming and were so low profile as to be positively subterranean.
Manju Shahul-Hameed, the council cabinet member for economy and jobs, had put her name to a press release which announced that she had formed a task force and would be sending out a newsletter.
But her press release failed to mention the various funds that are available to businesses to claim during the emergency.
Around 4,500 Croydon businesses are eligible to receive government grants of £10,000 or £25,000 under the scheme which was announced by Whitehall last month. Then, it took Croydon more than a week to issue any guidance to local businesses, and another four days before they issued any guidance on how grants can be claimed.
Last night, in her email to the borough’s 69 other councillors, Shahul-Hameed wrote: “To my surprise, the response from the businesses to take up the grant has been slow.”
But then, after failing to pass such information on to the vast majority of the borough’s businesses, it is hardly a surprise that few of them realise the council has free money to give away.
The council had promised that all the grant aid would be distributed within seven days.
Shahul-Hameed opted to work closest with the borough’s business improvement districts – in the town centre, in New Addington and Purley. But this leaves large areas of the borough outside the BIDs’ scope. And the BID organisations have only a minority of the businesses on their patch signed up: for example, the Whitgift-centric Croydon BID in the town centre represents barely 1-in-3 of firms in their area.
In her email, Shahul-Hameed wrote, “Croydon Council has been distributing £61million of covid-19 business grant funding to local businesses since last week. Before rolling out the funds, the council contacted local businesses to verify their details so that grant payments could be made to support them through the disruption caused by coronavirus…
“Receiving a government business grant is a free and automatic service. There is no lengthy application process and businesses have been asked to fill in and return a simple online form to verify details such as the name of the rate-payer, their business address, VAT registration details and Companies House registration number. Also, there is no need for businesses to employ any agency or broker.
“To my surprise, the response from the businesses to take up the grant has been slow.
“Can I ask all of you to contact your local businesses in your ward and in Croydon to complete and return the simple online form … which offers a crucial lifeline to our local businesses and protect our local economy and jobs.”
As one councillor who received the email said, “It’s an emergency. Manju only had to ask. The question is, why did it take her, and the council, so long to ask us?”
If you operate a small business in Croydon and you need a business grant of more than £10,000 to help you through the virus lockdown, click here for the council’s online form to begin the process of claiming that aid.
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