Under the Government’s Coronavirus business support programme announced originally in March by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, £12bn was released to local authorities. Eligible businesses and individuals were not supposed to have to make applications for their share of this money – generally £25,000 for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors; £10,000 for other rate-paying small businesses. The councils would identify and notify appropriate recipients. But, according to data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) last week, over 12% of the total (amounting to £1.5bn) remains sitting in the accounts of local authorities, not paid out. And the DBEIS has informed them that they should close these funding programmes if funds remain unallocated by 28th August.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) was, by all accounts, prompt in dispensing a high volume of grants to many local businesses within a few weeks of receipt from central government. But the recent figures from the DBEIS indicate that, out of £27,782,000 to be allocated between 1,974 businesses, as of the end of July only £20,040,000 had  been paid to 1,725 of them. If those figures are right, that leaves 249 unpaid and £7.742m (nearly 28%) still held.

Nobody at HBC was available to comment on these figures as this newspaper went to press. However, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Federation of Small Businesses have both issued statements urging councils not to make any repayments to the DBEIS at the end of this month. The LGA is arguing that they need more time and flexibility to ensure the maximum uptake by eligible businesses. It also suggests that any unspent resources from the original schemes, including any clawed back, should be spent by councils like Hastings on further efforts to support businesses in their area and to “reboot local economies”.

The BBC reported a spokes-person for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as saying: “Businesses that are eligible but have not yet received grant funding should speak to their local council as soon as possible.”

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