Council leader Nancy Platts has warned “unscrupulous businesses” that she will ask the government to withhold financial help if they profiteer during the coronavirus crisis.
The Labour leader’s warning came during a “virtual” council meeting today (Tuesday 31 March).
Councillor Platts and two leading opposition councillors approved a number of emergency measures as senior executives shared details of the rapidly changing financial situation.
The council has already received more than £8 million from the government – and could receive more than £100 million yet still find itself struggling.
Councillor Platts said: “I have been saddened to hear a few stories of scammers and some unscrupulous businesses who have put up prices on goods in short supply like hand gel. This is capitalism at its worst.
“I want to be quite clear – if anyone sends me evidence of any business in this city that has sought to increase its profits on scarce goods, I will be asking for financial support from the government to be withheld.”
Councillor Platts also said: “I want to repeat our thanks all council staff across the departments who are working flat out and around the clock to deliver vital services to our residents in difficult circumstances.
“We are working hard to keep fundamental and critical services running, protecting our most vulnerable residents.
“That is why, as a council we are doing everything we can to keep democracy running as smoothly as possible, to keep key services across the city up and running and to work with partner organisations and residents across the Brighton and Hove to contain the spread of the covid-19 virus.
“The impact of coronavirus is outside of our normal experience. That’s why it has been hard for everyone to quickly come to terms with the concepts of social distancing and self-isolation.
“When I was elected leader of Brighton and Hove City Council a year ago, I never would have imagined asking people not to come to our city, asking the police to be at the barriers at Brighton station to turn people away, asking our own business to close and our residents to stay indoors – all on the first sunny weekend we have had in what feels like months.
“I know that this has been really hard but we saw a marked difference between our seafront two weekends ago and last weekend.
“I want to thank everyone who heeded our call and shared our message, especially our local media.
“It is only by staying at home, we can keep ourselves and one another safe and give our NHS a fighting chance of saving people’s lives.
“Thank you to the army of volunteers who are delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people and to all the essential workers who have to keep going through such difficult times.
“On a positive note, we have seen mutual aid groups set up, huge neighbourhood support on social media and many local food outlets have converted to takeaway and delivery overnight.
“We are seeing increased use of local shops who are providing all sorts of food including freshly baked bread and healthy veg boxes with vegetables that are not wrapped in plastic.
“I hope that people will continue to support these local shops and businesses long after the coronavirus outbreak is over.
“The council already provides critical services to local businesses many of whom are now feeling economically fragile.
“We know that industries like hospitality are particularly feeling the impact of the latest measures and we are supporting these businesses and others.
“And the council is working hard to ensure small businesses benefit as soon as possible from a package of measures announced by the government to support small businesses through the period of disruption caused by covid-19.
“Small business will be able to access grant funding of £10,000 if they have been in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief – and grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses where the property has a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.
“There is no need to apply for the grant as the council will be writing to all eligible businesses in the next few days and will be sending payments out from early April.
“Information about other support for business measures is available on the Gov.uk website and we have produced some helpful FAQs available on our own council coronavirus (covid-19) help and advice pages.
“Small businesses are a vital part of our local economy and we will continue to provide what support we can and look forward to working together with business to help rejuvenate the local economy once the pandemic is over.
“These next few weeks are a time for reflection – with use of local shops up and carbon emissions down, now is the time to think about the permanent positive changes we might want to make to our way of life in the city.”
Conservative councillor Joe Miller said that he welcomed the financial support from the government to help businesses, the public sector and individuals.
He said ministers had already committed £155 million to support businesses and the council in Brighton and Hove and there was no cap on government spending to tackle the crisis.
Councillor Miller said: “It’s quite amazing what we have done as a country over the past few weeks.
“I was looking at China a couple of months ago in awe of the speed they built a hospital. But we have built the largest hospital in the world, the Nightingale Hospital in London, in 10 days.”
He added: “I want to thank officers and council staff, teachers, binmen, managers, health service workers, social workers and social care workers for all their hard work dealing with this crisis.
“What it has displayed is the best in our city with innovation, creativity, community spirit and real society.”
Green councillor David Gibson also offered his whole-hearted thanks to council workers for going above and beyond the call of duty.
He said: “I am aware people in housing have been working night and day and being very flexible and resourceful which is very heartening to see and so appreciated.
“I can say from the community side where I have been involved in Hanover and Elm Grove the same response is happening on the doorsteps as happening in the council.
“It’s really great that people are pulling together and not seeing this as a party political thing. It’s about an opportunity to pull people together and work for the safety of all.”