Money dropping into the bank accounts of an estimated 2,000 companies across the district as East Herts Council distributes £31m in Government grants and allowances
Businesses teetering on the brink of bankruptcy because of the coronavirus lockdown are being thrown a lifeline this week.
Eagerly awaited grants of £10,000 or £25,000 are dropping into the bank accounts of an estimated 2,000 companies across the district as East Herts Council distributes £31m in Government grants and allowances.
Across the border in Essex, Uttlesford District Council handed out £11.5m in cash grants to almost 950 local businesses in seven days.
East Herts has come under fire about the speed of its cash dispersal from some town centre traders in Bishop's Stortford who were forced to close to contain the spread of Covid-19 and who are now facing pressure from their creditors.
Their concerns were taken up by the BID (Business Improvement District) board chairman, Karen Burton, who runs Karen's Cakes at Northgate End.
In a letter to her, Cllr Jan Goodeve, EHC's executive member for planning and growth, responded: "I understand many of the businesses with the Bishop's Stortford BID are facing unprecedented challenges at this difficult time which are not made any easier when they are anxious about receiving cash grants.
"I am acutely aware of this situation and have instructed officers to make processing applications a top priority.
"Our intention is to increase the speed at which all applications are processed to make sure we can award grants as quickly as possible. We will be publishing daily updates on our website so businesses and stakeholders can check progress frequently."
Cllr Goodeve pledged: "Rest assured, any grant applications that have been made by eligible businesses within the Bishop's Stortford BID will be dealt with as swiftly as possible."
The process for the council – which itself is facing staff shortages and increased demands for other services as a result of the pandemic – has been complicated by grant requests from traders who are not eligible for the assistance because they do not pay business rates.
The Government cash provides for a 100% business rates holiday for 12 months for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and £25,000 grants to the same categories with a rateable value from £15,001 up to £50,999. There is also a £5,000 business rates discount for pubs, increased from £1,000.
Other traders who are eligible for Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) are entitled to a one-off £10,000 payment.
By yesterday (Tuesday) the council had distributed £6.9m in grants and £18m in retail reliefs. A spokesman stressed that the authority believed there were more businesses which should have applied and that meant it was difficult to determine when all payments would be completed.
Cllr Goodeve estimated around 2,000 businesses in the district were eligible to apply for £10,000 and a further 500 were eligible for a grant up to £25,000.
She said: "If you operate a business and think you're eligible for business rate grants or reliefs, you must complete our Covid-19 online form. For more information, please visit the business support section of our website."
Sawbridgeworth town councillor David Royle, who is chairman of the town action plan and economic development committee, said he had been contacted by around a dozen shops and other businesses over the weekend and only two had received the grant.
He added: "It's clear from my contacts that not all were clear about what to do or, in some cases, about eligibility."
Gina Thomas, the Bishop's Stortford BID manager, said: "We understand how important these grants are for businesses and we're in close contact with the council as they manage this process and are assisting them to spread the word as much as possible to ensure people receive them as quickly as possible.
"It's really important that the council has applications with bank details so they can process payments efficiently."
She, too, stressed that traders applying for grants who were not eligible were slowing the process for those who are entitled and adding to their difficulties.
As part of its coronavirus response, the BID is continuing to fund security patrols each night in the town centre to ensure premises stay safe during the lockdown.
Gina added: "I'm also putting together expert information sheets and would be interested to hear from local businesses who have advice they would like to share with other businesses at this time, or any suggestions on what advice people want.
"People can contact me directly to get involved. We want to use the local expertise we have in the town to help others out. Advice will range from employment law, marketing, financial, business strategies and more."
See the BID's website at bishopsstortfordbid.co.uk for more.
For more details about Covid-19 relief for businesses in East Herts see www.eastherts.gov.uk/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-businesses/covid19-grant. For help in Uttlesford, go to www.uttlesford.gov.uk/covid19-business-grants-fund.
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More by this authorSinead Corr
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