One of the borough’s best-known food retailers, Coughlans the bakers, are demanding to know what Croydon Council has done with their dough.
Coughlans is the family-run chain of shops which has its head office in Thornton Heath. All its shops had to be shut once the coronavirus lockdown was declared at the end of March. They have now gone six weeks waiting to receive £70,000 from Croydon Council in covid-19 emergency grants provided by the government.
“I cannot believe the inefficiency of Croydon Council,” Virginia Coughlan has told Inside Croydon.
Coughlans has eight branches in Croydon, all qualifying for a £10,000 vital injection of government cash.
The money was supposed to be distributed “urgently”; Croydon promised to get into the borough’s businesses bank accounts “within seven days”. They made that promise at the start of the lockdown, at the beginning of April.
Coughlans has 23 branches in all, across suburban south London and Surrey. The only local authority where they have experienced such delays is Croydon.
“Reigate and Banstead managed to pay-out on April 3, Sutton Council paid out on April 9, followed quickly by Bromley, Epsom and Ewell, Tandridge and Kingston.
“Such a simple process for all the other councils – what on earth is going on at Croydon?” Virginia Coughlan said.
The government announced the scheme along with a raft of other covid emergency measures on March 19. Under the scheme, Croydon was given £60.6million to distribute to 4,218 businesses. Councils were given a deadline by the government of the end of April to distribute all of the grant money.
Yet even by Monday this week, according to its own figures, the council had only managed to distribute £38.9million – less than two-thirds of the total.
Earlier this week, at a “virtual” council cabinet meeting, Croydon’s chief exec, Jo Negrini, changed her position on the reasons for the council’s lengthy delays in handing out the grants.
In her report ahead of the meeting, Negrini had tried to pass the buck for her council’s dismal performance, blaming the business owners. “It has proved challenging to get businesses to complete the simple application process for the government grants,” the £220,000 CEO wrote, just a tad condescendingly.
“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,” the CEO claimed in the report.
But at Monday’s meeting, Negrini told senior councillors that the delays were because they had decided to conduct “due diligence” to check that the money was going to existing businesses. No councillors challenged Negrini on this.
Coughlans has been an “existing business” since 1937. Today, as well as Thornton Heath, it has branches in Addiscombe, Purley, Coulsdon, South Croydon, Warlingham, on London Road and Croydon High Street. None of them has had the grant money that could help them through the coronavirus crisis.
Sources inside Fisher’s Folly suggest that the council’s delays have been caused in part because of “computer issues”. This within a council that has often boasted of its digital prowess. Some traders who have contacted the council over their delayed payments relate that they were told by council officials that the money had been sent but had been “lost in the ether”, apparently in all seriousness.
Virginia Coughlans says that she was sent a link by the council on March 30 “which I immediately completed for our property in Purley.
“We have eight retail shops in the borough of Croydon so I tried to complete the link for the next shop, but it seems the system could not allow it to be completed for more than one property.
“I followed this up with an email detailing all the other properties with full addresses and account numbers. I heard nothing.
“I chased this up twice on the phone, both times waiting approximately an hour to get through. The first time I was told by the lady that answered that as everyone was working from home, she couldn’t really help me.
“The second time a different lady was more helpful and took all the property details again, and said she would try and find out what had gone wrong. Still I heard nothing.
“I emailed Matthew Sims at Croydon BID on May 1 asking for his help in obtaining our grants. I received no response.”
A business contact gave Coughlans the details of a council official handling the grant payments. They told Virginia Coughlan that after the Purley application was received, “the other properties had not been automatically loaded on to the system, so I had to complete the link she sent me for all properties.” A second link was then to be forwarded.
That was on May 6. “I have still not had this ‘second’ link for all shops to complete,” Virginia Coughlan said.
Some of the businesses who had waited for a month to receive their grants, whose cases were highlighted by Inside Croydon last week, somehow got payments from the council within three days of publication of their plight on this website.
For bakers Coughlans, they can’t get their hands on their bread soon enough.
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