Traders criticise council over delays in paying out grants

Business owners are angry and frustrated that it has taken weeks to receive restart grants from Brighton and Hove City Council.

Restart grants to support businesses as they reopen after lockdown were started on Thursday 1 April but many businesses in Brighton and Hove are still waiting for their money.

The government grants support businesses with a one-off grant of up to £6,000 for “non-essential retail” and up to £18,000 for businesses in the hospitality, gyms, accommodation and personal care sectors as they reopen.

Nigel Parry, treasurer of the Railway Club, in Belmont, off Dyke Road, feared the business, which has operated since the 1950s, may have to close because of the delays.

He said: “Why have the council sat on £25 million for over six weeks? How much interest did they receive on the £25,632,603 they received? What are they doing with this as the money was not theirs in the first place?

“We have stock to pay for next week which, as it currently stands, the payments will bounce and suppliers will withdraw out credit.

“I may have to pay the bill myself in the interim period. We are a social club run by a committee of volunteers so, as treasurer, it’s not my personal liability to pay the bills from my own money.”

Mr Parry called for the resignation of whoever was responsible for the delay.

Michelle Raven, owner of a café in Lewes Road, Brighton, was frustrated that the grant forms were not available until after many businesses reopened for people sitting outside or for takeaways.

As an “indoor” business, she wanted to be ready to reopen on Monday 17 May when customers could sit inside again.

She said: “We’ve all filled the forms out but haven’t been paid.

“I should imagine your McDonald’s and large companies have because they claim small companies do fraud.

“We’re on a knife-edge at the moment. That’s how business is.”

Green councillor Tom Druitt said that the council was not “sitting” on the money.

Councillor Tom Druitt

Councillor Druitt said: “Council policy is to get the money out the door as quickly as possible and extra resources have been brought in to process the grants as quickly as possible.

“There are some isolated cases where the council has had trouble finding the business in question or where some other issue has delayed payment.

“If there is a particular business that is having trouble getting a payment that’s due, please refer them to me and I will follow up their payment for them.”

Some small business owners affected by the delays feared that complaining would result in a “blacklisting” by council officials.

Councillor Druitt said that no business should fear making a complaint.

The council said: “The Restart Grant Scheme that came into effect on (Thursday) 1 April had additional requirements, particularly in relation to fraud prevention.

“This meant that we had to write new software. These grants are also subject to an application process as they require external assessment.

“Both factors have slowed things down compared to the previous grant scheme.

“We have paid out around 60 per cent of the 2,800 or so applications we have received.

“These payments are for both Restart Grants and for Additional Restriction Grants, which are for businesses that aren’t eligible for Restart because they do not pay business rates.

“We expect to pay the remaining grants within a fortnight, apart from the ones where the applications are incomplete and we have asked for further information.

“We make no distinction between small and large businesses in regards to when grants are paid out.”

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