Two months on and 18 mostly unanswered emails later and, as first highlighted by Inside Croydon, Coughlans the bakers are still waiting for thousands of pounds of government grants which Croydon Council promised back in March would be in their bank account within days.
Coughlans is just one of a host of small and medium-sized businesses in the borough who have been left seriously out of pocket during the coronavirus lockdown. Government grants of £10,000 or £25,000 were supposed to help alleviate some of the worst cashflow problems suffered by SMEs who were forced to close down during the emergency.
Croydon Council was given more than £60million to distribute to the borough’s businesses, with a deadline of April 30 to hand over all of the cash.
Yet as the nation starts to get back to work in June, Croydon Council is still sitting on more than £15million-worth of grants intended for businesses. It is among the worst-performing councils in the country in terms of efficient and timely distribution of the money.
And now the council risks alienating the core of the powerful Croydon Establishment, as Inside Croydon has discovered that even the Whitgift old boys’ sports club – home of the Old Whits’ rugby and cricket teams – has been hung out to dry, waiting for their grant. They say it’s just not cricket.
Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, the council’s £220,000 per year chief executive, started out blaming the borough’s businesses for failing to fill in the forms properly. She then told a council meeting the delays in making the pay-outs were because her council was conducting some kind of due diligence process that no other local authority had deemed necessary for the process.
Yet Negrini’s excuses do not tally with the accounts given by numerous Croydon businesses that have suffered unreasonable delays in receiving their grants. They tell of initial contact with council staff who have confirmed that their application has been in order, and that the money is on its way. Only for that to be followed by no payments and stubborn silence from Fisher’s Folly.
As well as being the sports ground where many of the borough’s more privileged residents play their rugby, cricket and hockey, Whitgift Sports Club on Croham Manor Road also operates a hospitality business as a venue catering for weddings and other events.
The experience of Suzanne Piscina, the manager at Whitgift Sports Club, in dealing with the council over the grant payments is typical of many businesses.
“We applied on March 26 for the grant. I received a text message on April 3 to say we would get payment within seven days.
“When the payment didn’t arrive I spoke to someone at Croydon Council who said I would be on the next bill run and to give it until the following week. Then nothing.
“I emailed and still haven’t had a response.
“Then I got another text which asked me to fill in a form, which I did. Then I got another text on May 7 to say that we would receive the money.
“But still nothing. I called again on Monday and was told they could see the application was successful and they would get a manager to call within 48 hours.
Speaking to Inside Croydon yesterday, Piscina said, “Well it’s well over that now and they haven’t called. No money, no communication, no one to speak to. It’s a disgrace.
“We are a small business with no income during this period and still having to pay our bills. It’s just a very poor showing by Croydon Council.”
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