London business groups seek more government support for small enterprises

London business groups seek more government support for small enterprises

Two of the capital’s leading business groups have urged the government to do more to help small and medium-sized enterprises to survive the Covid-19 crisis, with measures introduced during the spring due to end at the end of this month.

London Chamber of Commerce & Industry chief executive Richard Burge has written to business secretary Alok Sharma, asking him him to postpone the closing date for applications to the discretionary grant fund (DGF), which is government money allocated local authorities.

At the same time, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the government to provide a second DGF nationally, for the same overall figure of £617 million as the original one, which was announced at the end of May and came into effect in June.

The two business bodies are responding to confirmation by the government that three separate national funds set up to help businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown period will close on 28 August, leading to concerns across the country that money unclaimed will have to be returned to the Treasury.

The DGF was brought in later than the other two funds, the Small Business Grants Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund, to help “small and micro businesses with fixed property costs” that were not eligible for the other two.

Grants of £25,000, £10,000 or any amount under £10,000 were made available for companies in England that were trading on 11 March operating from properties or parts of properties with relatively low rateable values that could show they had suffered significant falls in income due to the virus.

The government asked local authorities to prioritise small businesses in shared offices or flexible workplaces, “regular market traders” and some bed and breakfast premises when deciding which applications for their share of the fund should benefit.

In his letter to Sharma, Burge writes that the two original funds “have been processed by local councils at a steady pace” but that the DGF is more complicated because “each application requires a significant amount of due diligence” and the companies making them have, in most cases, never had to make one of this kind before. “Not every firm gets the right documentation, which adds work to the approval process,” Burge points out.

He has asked for the DGF closing date to be put back to 30 September, giving more time for councils to process applications and “run additional application windows”.

The FSB has urged small business yet to make a DGF claim to do so before the current deadline and urged to councils to ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible.

The website London Loves Business has reported findings by business rates experts Colliers International that some local authorities outside the capital were given more money by the government than they have been able to distribute, while Westminster Council and the City of London, were very quickly oversubscribed.

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