East Cambridgeshireshire and Fenland district councils identified as bottom performers for delivering coronavirus business grants
PUBLISHED: 18:01 22 April 2020 | UPDATED: 19:04 22 April 2020
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Many businesses are going without desperately needed government grants, with the money still sitting in council bank accounts, the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce has said.
The organisation, which represents businesses across the county, said figures showing how much grant money had been allocated by councils “do not make for positive reading”.
The government gave £150million to councils in Cambridgeshire at the beginning of April to distribute grants to businesses in order to help them through the Covid-19 lockdown.
Data provided by the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce shows that three councils in the county are below the national average of about half – 49.6 per cent – of the funding being allocated.
Figures released on April 20 show East Cambridgeshire District Council had allocated the lowest percentage of its grant money out of all the councils in the county.
It had allocated only 39 per cent of the £18.8 million it received, with 806 eligible businesses still going without.
Fenland District Council was the second worst performer, with 42 per cent of funds allocated, and then Peterborough City Council with 44 per cent.
Cambridgeshire City Council had allocated the most, with 66 per cent, but that still leaves 442 eligible businesses going without in its area.
John Bridge OBE DL, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “We are finding that much of the money is still sitting in local authority bank accounts when it is so desperately needed by businesses.
“It is difficult to understand the reasons behind this, and how there is such a significant difference between the local authorities that cover our chamber area.
“It is imperative that the local authorities ensure these funds reach businesses as a matter of urgency. Many of these companies will not survive without these grants, which they are eligible to receive.”
The grants vary depending on the business activity and size. A £10,000 grant is available for all businesses in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief. A £10,000 grant is also available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 and below.
A grant of £25,000 is available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value between £15,001 and below £51,000.
Councillor David Brown, chairman of the finance and assets committee at East Cambridgeshire District Council, said his council is doing its “utmost” and has contacted every eligible business in its area, but not every business has responded.
“Work to process payments is taking place continuously, including over the weekend, to ensure that businesses who have been quick to provide all the details we require, gain access to the funding they are entitled to” he said.
Peterborough City Council said it aims to have 90 per cent of its grants distributed by the end of month.
The cabinet member for finance at Peterborough City Council, Councillor David Seaton, said: “We are distributing these grants swiftly, however, we are required by government to ensure these payments are given to those businesses which meet the government criteria.
“Sadly, there has been a minority of people who have attempted to submit fraudulent claims and because of this we have to make sure we are not simply handing over millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.”
Fenland District Council said it has tried to contact every eligible business in its area.
The executive councillor for finance at Cambridge City Council, Richard Robertson, said: “All districts have had difficulty contacting the businesses in their area, especially the ones who have not had to pay business rates in recent years because they have had Small Business Rates Relief. We need to make contact to get them to provide confirmation of the eligibility and bank account details.
“We laid on extra resources and our staff at Cambridge City Council have worked really hard to get to these grants paid out as we know that many businesses are unable to trade and need financial support. Our objective has been to help them keep afloat and able to restart trading and employing staff when this becomes possible.”
Table received for Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, based on government data published on April 20.
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