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Grant deadline early Wednesday!

Small businesses excluded from other forms of government support have until Wednesday to lodge an application for the discretionary grant fund. Small business grants have reached 85% take-up, according to the council. Nick Terdre reports.

Applications for the £1,153,000 allocated to Hastings Borough Council for award under the discretionary grants scheme close at 9am on Wednesday 24 June.

The scheme is aimed at small and micro businesses with fixed property costs who were ineligible for the small business grants and the retail, hospitality and leisure grants.

In view of the evident popularity of the discretionary grants scheme, which attracted 157 expressions of interest prior to its launch, the council decided to prioritise four categories of applicant:

  • Larger small businesses which rent a space within a single property
  • Business incubators which provide assistance to new and start-up businesses
  • Businesses in the tourism sector, including suppliers relying on tourism for more than 50% of their turnover
  • Non-profit making bodies providing support into vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

Limited funding

As well as following government rules, the council also consulted local business networks before drawing up its priorities, according to council leader Kim Forward. “The funding we have been given from government for this scheme is limited and we are trying to ensure that businesses that receive the funding are those who need it most,” she said.

However, Cllr Rob Lee, leader of the Conservative group, criticised the council for the time taken to launch the scheme. “Hastings has […] been slow to approve the discretionary grant scheme, which other towns had up and running weeks ago, causing distress to small business owners and the local economy as a whole,” he said.

Applications opened on 10 June. The fund is being dispensed in grants of £25,000, £10,000 and less than £10,000.

The decision to go ahead with the scheme was taken at a special meeting of the Cabinet on 9 June by the HBC managing director, Jane Hartnell, under emergency powers conferred on her in March.

The provisions of these powers stipulate that the managing director must consult at least four members of Cabinet before taking a decision, including one opposition councillor – but the day before, Cllr Forward had removed the two opposition members of the Cabinet, Tory councillors Rob Lee and Andy Patmore.

So although the minutes record that both Cllrs Lee and Patmore were consulted, this appears to have been an irregular process. The council contests this conclusion. “Regardless of whether the Conservatives are on Cabinet or not, the managing director has and will continue to consult them on any decision she takes under the emergency powers, to keep within the spirit of the emergency powers as well as the legality of them,” a spokesperson said.

Small business grants

Meanwhile as of 15 June HBC had paid out £19.2 million in small business grants and retail, hospitality and leisure grants. Government has allocated it a total of £27.8m for these funds, but according to HBC the total payable is just over £22.5m.

“The council does not know how the government calculated the […] allocation of funding for Hastings,” it said.

According to Cllr Peter Chowney, the lead for financial management and estates, grants have been paid to 1,651 premises, or 84% of the 1,974 believed to be eligible.

“The council has been doing all it can to encourage the remaining eligible businesses to apply for this funding,” he said. Last month he told HOT that for some businesses there were no contact details, and it was likely that some businesses were no longer trading.

Rother District Council has paid £24.2m to 2,121 businesses out of 2,566 believed to be eligible. Its total allocation is £33.8m.

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 24 June 2020.

Posted 20:47 Monday, Jun 22, 2020 In: Covid-19

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