According to Jo Negrini, it is the fault of the borough’s small businesses that her council has failed to distribute half of the £60million they were given by central government for use as covid-19 emergency grants.
Negrini is Croydon’s £220,000 per year chief executive.
Croydon is among the worst councils in London for distributing emergency funding to businesses, according to Whitehall figures. The money is intended to help firms’ cash flow during the lockdown period when many have been forced to shut up shop.
Traders in Croydon who were promised their payment inside seven days have been left to wait for nearly six weeks for their cash. Some report great reluctance from council officials to putting anything in writing to them, and others relate being shouted at in phone calls with council staff.
In Negrini’s report to Monday night’s (virtual) council cabinet meeting, she claims that £36.42million of Croydon’s £60.6million allocated money had been distributed to 2,684 businesses in Croydon by May 4.
She says that is 64 per cent of the business grant budget.
Omitted from the chief executive’s report is the total number of businesses in the borough eligible for the grant aid: 4,218.
Which means that even by Negrini’s own figures, 1,534 businesses had failed to receive their money by May 4. The government-set target was that all the money was to have been paid by councils by the end of April.
In a clear attempt to pass the buck for the slow distribution of the cash, Negrini wrote in her report: “It has proved challenging to get businesses to complete the simple application process for the government grants…
“There have been more applications made which are being processes [sic] but there are approximately 1,100 further businesses who the council believes will be entitled to a grant who have yet to apply.
“The council is proactively contacting all businesses to ensure they are aware of this funding and to support them through the simple verification process and make payments as quickly as possible.”
Negrini’s report is the same document being submitted to cabinet on Monday in which the tactless CEO states that the borough’s care homes are “responding well” to the crisis, after 127 people have died in those care homes. Negrini’s crass remarks are on a par with Boris Johnson talking nationally of “our apparent success”, in the same week that the total death toll from coronavirus surpassed 30,000.
On business matters, Negrini’s cabinet report is an admission that under her leadership the local authority has lost contact with much of the borough’s business community.
“All councillors are asked to encourage local businesses to apply for this funding,” adds the council chief executive who has a well-earned reputation for failing to respond to councillors when they approach her over issues in their wards.
But don’t despair: Negrini has a plan! The council is to run a survey!
Negrini boasts that the council “has already spoken to over 1,000 businesses”. Put another way, that’s less than one-quarter of the registered businesses in the borough.
“We have created a business survey to help us to understand exactly how our business community in Croydon is being impacted by the covid-19 crisis and the continued lockdown. The responses will also help us to shape our recovery. We plan to repeat the survey at regular intervals to track progress on impact and recovery.”
So that’s all right then.
Though it won’t be much consolation to those hard-working business owners that have gone bust because their grant funding was not paid out.
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