It has taken a little while to get new systems in place to pay government grant money to local businesses. But matters seem to have been resolved. Except the biggest issue.
More than 1,500 businesses have not yet applied for the money. A minority of these may not be eligible for grants under EU rules. But it is still puzzling that one in five Shropshire businesses had not made a claim by last Wednesday. Up the road in Telford and Wrekin, almost all businesses have received the money they are due.
That is an extraordinary difference. I can’t explain it.
Shropshire Council needs now to go into overdrive to ensure that all businesses eligible for funding get the money they are due.
In the Shropshire Council area, 1534 of 7,810 businesses had not made a claim (19.6%) according to a report two days ago. This was the position reported to a committee on 20 May:
- Small Business Grant: A one-off grant of £10,000 for eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs (SBGF). Eligible businesses 5,879. Applications paid 4,571 (78%). 314 (5%) currently undergoing bank checks or awaiting other outstanding information. 994 (17%) applications not received from businesses.
- Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant. A cash grant of up to £25,000 per property with a rateable value of over £15,000 and less than £51,000 (RHLGF). Eligible Businesses 1,931. Applications paid 1,319 (68%). 72 (4%) currently undergoing bank checks or awaiting other outstanding information, 540 (28%) applications not received from businesses
As of 20 May, Shropshire Council had paid out £69.8m. Outstanding applications due to be paid had an estimated value £22.0m (24%). But it seems a lot of that remains unclaimed.
Government data published on 17 May, shows that Shropshire Council had paid out £65,025,000 – 72.1% of the funding it was given by government to give to businesses. Yet Telford and Wrekin had paid out £29,085,000 – 96.7% of the funding.
The contrast in performance between councils across England in the 17 May data release is startling:
The difference in performance may partly be down to the accuracy of council records. Along with the ability of councils to redeploy sufficient and sufficiently skilled staff. Some councils have found their computer systems ill-prepared. Some have drafted specialists in to urgently program software.
These are exceptional times. Yet the current emergency is highlighting the different capabilities of councils around the country in coping with emergencies.
Shropshire Council officers have said they are currently unable to respond to requests about individual grants:
“The Council have received thousands of applications for the small business and retail, hospitality and leisure grants and we are currently trying to work through these. Unfortunately it would not be feasible to try and identify where individual applications are in this process at the moment. Not having heard anything at this stage is not a matter of concern.”
But for businesses any delay is a matter of concern.
Some of the businesses that are initially identified as being eligible for grant relief may not be able to receive government money. Take the example of a national pharmacy chain. Its local shops might pay business rates and be eligible for relief. But when relief is totted up across the national group it may exceed state aid limits.
It is the small traders we care about. Most national chains operating here will have enough reserves to weather this emergency. In Shropshire, we must meet the level of performance in giving out grants delivered by the best councils in the country. We need look no further than Telford and Wrekin as role model.