Cornavirus grant delays? Business owners urged to contact council

Business owners waiting to hear about coronavirus-related grants have been urged to contact their councillor or Brighton and Hove City Council directly.

Several grant schemes with different rules – and a third national lockdown – have all added to the challenges for council officials as they try to help businesses as swiftly as they can.

But Conservative councillor Joe Miller said that two businesses in his Rottingdean Coastal ward had contacted him about delays to support grants.

One business owner spent 11 hours trying to get through to the council on the phone to find out their grant situation.

He called for better communication with businesses to explain delays.

Labour councillor Daniel Yates asked how business owners and residents could track where they were in the process of trying to obtain a grant.

The council’s head of revenues and benefits Graham Bourne said that there was no automated tracker in the software which had been developed quickly from scratch.

He said that applicants received notification of their application and then it was processed as quickly as possible.

Mr Bourne said that he understood people’s anxieties added that businesses could raise urgent issues through their ward councillors or by emailing the economic development team at economic.development@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

The council said: “We are working hard to assess grant applications and make payments to businesses as quickly as possible.

“Because of the change of tiers in recent weeks and the range of different grants, it has taken time to work through the government guidance and set up the necessary new computer software to process applications and we are sorry for the delay this has caused to payments.

“Grants have been paid out up until (Tuesday) 1 December (the second lockdown period).

“From next week we will start paying grants from (Wednesday) 2 December onwards, covering the periods in tier 2, tier 4 and the latest lockdown.

“We fully appreciate how important these grants are to local businesses and thank people for their understanding at this time.”

The council’s executive director for the economy, environment and culture Nick Hibberd said that the grant system had changed several times since being introduced last year.

There are currently seven different government grant schemes available – and the council had paid out £4 million to more than 3,000 businesses so far.

Mr Hibberd said that the government’s Local Restrictions Support Grant was the main scheme for businesses that were forced to close because of national restrictions.

Eligible businesses were due to receive payments of between £1,334 and £3,000 every four weeks.

He said that the council’s revenues and benefits team was working on sending out the grants for Wednesday 2 December to Friday 25 December – and processing 185 applications for Christmas support.

More money was on the way to help businesses through the third national lockdown, he said.

And the council was waiting to learn how much of the £594 million announced by the government on Tuesday would be available for firms in Brighton and Hove.

Mr Hibberd said: “What is evident is it is quite a complex process now with a large number of different funding streams and clearly there is a lot of anxiety in the business community and a need for us to reassure them and make payments quickly.

“The events of the last couple of weeks have left us with the task of administering up to seven different grant schemes. On top of this, we are still waiting for guidance.”

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