£40million in grants from a government-funded scheme to help businesses through the covid-19 emergency remain to be distributed by Croydon Council, as our business correspondent, MT WALLETTE, reports
Croydon Council has managed to distribute just one-third of the £60million it has been given by the government in emergency funding for businesses hit by the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.
That’s according to figures published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which also show that after three weeks of the scheme, Croydon had managed to distribute grant funding to just 1,386 out of the 4,218 eligible businesses in the borough – just 32 per cent.
Under the government scheme, announced at the start of the lockdown, local authorities across the country have been given the task of distributing grants of between £10,000 and £25,000. Businesses rates are also being waived for 12 months.
Much emphasis was given to the importance of distributing aid swiftly so that businesses might better weather the financial storm ahead of them.
Croydon businesses were promised by the council that the emergency cash would be in their bank accounts within seven days. But the council was slow to announce details of how to apply for the assistance. It took Croydon more than a week to issue any guidance to local businesses, and another four days before they issued advice on how to claim the grants.
Local businesses have been critical of the council’s approach, which has depended heavily on contact through the borough’s three “BIDS”, Business Improvement Districts in the town centre, Purley and New Addington. But only one-third of the businesses based in the Croydon BID area, for example, are members of that scheme.
“The council always used to have a close relationship with businesses across the borough,” said one struggling retailer who has yet to receive any emergency funding. “Now, unless you’re one of the big boys or sign up to their BID scheme, they don’t want to know.”
It all prompted the cabinet member responsible for business, Manju Shahul-Hameed, to send a desperate email to her fellow councillors asking for their help in contacting businesses in their wards, and talking of her “surprise” at the slow uptake for what amounts to free money.
Two weeks later, and the figures from BEIS confirm that Croydon has been slow to pass the money on.
Croydon’s distribution rate compares poorly with some other London boroughs.
- Southwark, for example, has already distributed £42million of its £70million allocation (60 per cent) with the grants going to 2,852 of the borough’s 3,863 eligible businesses (74 per cent).
- Neighbouring Sutton, too, has a better record in distributing its government business grants: £18.8million of their total £28.1million (67 per cent), to 1,470 of their 2,009 eligible businesses (73 per cent).
- Lambeth has managed to pass on £25.5million of its allocation of £57.5million (44 per cent), for 1,839 of their 3,892 businesses (47 per cent).
- While in Bromley, 2,446 of their 3,316 eligible businesses were still waiting for their grants by last week (a 26 per cent distribution rate), as just £14.76million had been passed on from a total grant of £52.48million (28 per cent).
Southwark and Sutton show what might be achieved, even in the early days of the scheme.
Croydon, meanwhile, appears to have swerved being held up as a poor example of what might have been achieved, as the table published by the government lists local authorities in alphabetical order. Tory ministers wanted to “name and shame” the poorly performing councils by presenting the statistics as a league table, ordered by distribution rates.
The league table was dropped by Whitehall after complaints from the Local Government Association. Overall, the BEIS figures, for the period up to April 19, show that about half of the grants have been disbursed by councils.
And even the publication of the data in a less targeted style is sure to put pressure on those councils which have been slower to distribute the cash. Business secretary Alok Sharma has said that he expects all payments to have been distributed by the end of this week.
“Businesses will consider it entirely right and proper that by that point [the end of April] they would have got the money,” he said.
“We may not get to 100 per cent by the end of April but that is what we are aiming for.”
Over to you, Manju…
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Ask our ‘beloved leader’ and his acolytes to collectively turn out their back pockets is my suggestion.