More than two months after being handed £60million by the government to distribute to the borough’s businesses as coronavirus emergency grants, Croydon Council is now offering some firms special one-off grants of up to £5,000.
“They’re just trying to buy us off with our own money,” one disillusioned trader said today. “Are they feeling guilty over the delays in paying us our grants?”
On March 19, the government announced a scheme of coronavirus emergency business grants.
Under that scheme, Croydon was given £60.6million to distribute to 4,218 businesses. Councils were given a deadline of the end of April to distribute all of the grant money.
According to Labour councillor Sean Fitzsimons, by the end of May, Croydon had paid out only £43.6million to 3,214 businesses in the borough, which he says is an “estimated 78per cent of eligible businesses”.
It is actually 76 per cent of registered businesses, leaving more than a thousand small businesses have been left waiting for their grants, of £10,000 or £25,000, which Croydon Council had promised would be in their bank accounts “within seven days”.
This all means that Croydon Council is still sitting on £17million of other people’s money, with some businesses at risk of folding because their local authority has been so slow to hand over the money.
“I wonder how many small businesses in Croydon have gone bust because they are waiting for the grant that Croydon Council are keeping in their own bank account?” one angry trader told Inside Croydon today, after promises from the council that they would receive a grant by June 2 were broken.
Today’s council announcement of additional grants seems a little odd. It is from the cash-strapped council, rather than any government grant.
Not all eligible businesses will receive the council funding, which is of a finite amount and is to be distributed on a “first-come, first-served” basis. The council has failed to state how much money it intends to distribute in this manner.
Today’s announcement by the Labour-run comes after a week-long barrage of social media videos from the local Tories, strongly critical of the council’s shambolic handling of the grant funding.
In a release from the council’s propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly, the council said, “Croydon businesses impacted by the coronavirus that have yet to receive any financial support will be able to apply to the council for a one-off grant payment of up to £5,000.
“Small businesses in Croydon will be able to apply for grants of £1,000, £2,500 and £5,000 from Thursday ,June 4. The grant totals have been deliberately set to ensure as many Croydon businesses as possible can benefit from the funding available at this crucial time.
“To be eligible businesses must have been trading on 11 March; employ less than 50 employees; must be able to demonstrate a significant fall in income or financial impact; must show they have fixed property costs related to occupying a property or workspace either fully or partially; and must not have been in receipt of any coronavirus specific grants.”
According to the council, market traders, who must trade five days a week in the borough, will be able to apply for a grant of £1,000, while businesses with property costs of between up to £999 and of £1,000-plus will be able to apply for grants of £2,500 and £5,000 respectively.
Applications for funding will either close when all funds have been allocated or on June 30, and the grants will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis.
The council’s explanation for its delays in distributing the government grants has changed, with Jo Negrini, the council CEO, first trying to blame businesses for not filling in forms properly, and later claiming to be conducting a form of “due diligence” over the distribution of the money which few, if any, local authorities have undergone.
Both excuses for the council’s incompetence are contradicted by the experience of many businesses, who relate that when questioning the delays in receiving their covid grants, they have been told that their applications have been in order and that the payment is on its way by a particular date – only to be let down when no money is received, in some cases repeatedly over the course of two months.
In typical style for Croydon’s “officer-led” council, today’s announcement of this additional funding was accompanied by quotes not from the council official responsible for the shambles, but from an elected councillor who may yet be made the scapegoat.
Manju Shahul-Hameed is the cabinet member for economy and jobs. Announcing the council’s grants, she is supposed to have said, “We know that more than 10,000 local businesses have missed out on grant funding so far and too many are falling through the gaps, which is why we continue to lobby government to give us the funding we need to enable us to provide an essential lifeline to all struggling businesses in our borough.
“I’d urge all businesses that meet the criteria to apply for this grant, which we hope will help to ease some of the financial burden caused by this pandemic.”
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