50,000 North West businesses still waiting for emergency coronavirus grants

More than 50,000 North West businesses are still waiting for emergency grants from the Government, six weeks after Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the rescue package.

More than £1.7bn was allocated for 140,000 small businesses and those operating in the retail and leisure sectors as part of the measures to prevent an economic catastrophe following on from the Covid-19 pandemic.

But TheBusinessDesk.com can reveal that only 59% of eligible businesses in the region had received the money by the start of this week – the second-worst performance among the nine English regions.

Across England, 62% of grants have been paid out with businesses receiving £7.6bn. However £4.7bn remained unpaid, including £720m due to North West businesses.

The payments are from the Government’s small business grants fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure business grants fund.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on March 17 – the Tuesday before lockdown began – that the Government would hand out grants to nearly 1m small businesses.

All businesses eligible for small business rates relief or rural rates relief can receive a £10,000 grant.

Specific support was provided to shops, restaurants, bars and other leisure operators. Businesses which are eligible for the expanded retail discount will receive a £10,000 grant if its rateable value is up to £15,000, and a grant of £25,000 if its rateable value is between £15,000 and £51,000.

Nationally 345,000 of the 959,000 eligible businesses were still waiting to receive their money by Sunday, more than one month into the lockdown which has sent shockwaves through the economy.

It has also put increased pressure on stretched local authorities, which are dealing with the long-term effects of a decade of local government cuts, the short-term disruption to their own operations, and additional demands on its services.

Cllr Miles Parkinson, leader of Hyndburn Borough Council which is third in the North West rankings having paid out 77% of its £25m funding, said: “Our staff have worked incredibly hard in difficult circumstances, including working long hours and weekends to ensure this money, which will be a lifeline to many local businesses, has reached them as soon as possible.

“It’s a testament to their dedication to the local community, delivering this money quickly to where it is needed.”

There is a huge disparity between the performance of local authorities, with more than seven out of 10 businesses still waiting for money in some parts of the country.

Five authorities – Sandwell, Harrow, Slough, Tendring and South Derbyshire – had paid out less than 30% of their allocation by Sunday night, and 41 authorities had distributed less than half.

However Ealing, Epping Forest and Westminster had all allocated more than 90% of their funding.

In the North West the bottom two places for payments were occupied by the authorities with the least and the most amount of money to allocate.

Barrow-in-Furness has paid out just 34% of the £17m it has been given from HM Treasury while Manchester had distributed 37% of its £121m allocation.

Manchester City Council has nearly 10,000 eligible businesses to deal with, which it described as a “major task”.

A council spokesperson said: “The reality is that Manchester has a lot more businesses to support than other local authorities, along with some very complex cases.

“We’ve redirected a lot of Council staff from other areas to help with the volume and to request missing information and push out payments as quickly as possible.”

Its payments have been accelerating and it now has a run rate of more than £5m a day, with the expectation it will “pay out against the majority of applications in the next week”. In a separate measure it has already committed £137m to 100% business rates relief.

Preston Council, which had distributed just 39% of its £35m, blamed “a significant number of incomplete or inaccurate applications” as well as “businesses not registering for NNDR [national non-domestic rates], partnerships submitting separate applications, and ratepayers failing to update the council following a change of name or premises”.

Adrian Phillips, Preston City Council chief executive, added: “We understand this is a stressful time for businesses and we continue to issue payments daily to ensure we can to get this money to the right people as soon as we can, working at pace and prioritising.

“The team is going above and beyond where there is an issue to find solutions by proactively working with the businesses.”

The North West’s best-performing local authority, Ribble Valley, is one of three in the region to have distributed more than three-quarters of its grants.

Ribble Valley Borough Council leader Stephen Atkinson said it was “a tremendous achievement” to have already paid out more than £15m of its £19m allocation.

He said: “As a district council we are best-placed to understand our businesses, which has helped to make the process of paying the grants fast and efficient.

“Our finance staff also have a high level of knowledge and we have moved colleagues from other areas of the organisation to assist them, meaning they have been able to undertake the necessary checks, while processing the grants quickly.”

Rossendale Borough Council has paid out 78% of its £19m funding, putting it second in the North West rankings.

Council leader Cllr Alyson Barnes said: “We are really pleased to have helped so many businesses. Supporting local companies is a top priority for us and we are doing everything we can to help during this difficult time.

“The process has worked really well, thanks in no small way to our dedicated teams which have worked round the clock to get these funds to businesses.”