London councils responsible for handing out cash to small businesses during the coronavirus crisis need to improve on a currently uneven performance. That was the message from the London Chamber of Commerce today during a live webinar for the capital’s businesses with minister for London and small business minister Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam (pictured).
Councils administer two new pots of money, the small business grants fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure business grants fund, set up together last month to provide grants of £10,000 or £25,000 depending on rateable values.
Figures released by the government yesterday showed that councils in London had so far distributed just over £839 million from their total allocations. But while some had got almost all the money out to local businesses, others had handed out less than a third of the funding. Southwark, highlighted by the minister, had distributed £61 million of its £70 million allocation, while Haringey had handed out £12.13 million out of its £56.31 million pot.
“Right now the pace of funding delivery to businesses is imperative, whether from government, local government, or banks,” said Chamber chief executive Richard Burge. “The London figures show that many boroughs are making good progress, but there is more work to do in others. It’s important that businesses respond promptly to contact from their local council regarding these grants, and then equally important that councils issue these grants swiftly.”
Councils had had to “reverse engineer” their software to pay out rather than collect money from businesses and had not always initially had the information they needed, said Scully. But while businesses needed to make sure councils had up to date information there was “much more that local authorities could be doing,” the minister added.
Scully promised to take up concerns from Chamber members about company directors, often ineligible for support, either as employees or as self-employed, because of payment arrangements, and about landlords of “co-working” office space failing to pass rates freezes on to their tenants.
He also warned that there would inevitably be a “new normal” for businesses. “It’s not like flicking a light switch,” he said. “There will be measures like social distancing for some time to come, for health reasons and for economic reasons.” But the government would be working to “give as much certainty” to businesses as possible, he said. “London is such an important part of the UK, the centre of the UK in many ways for business. We need to give employers and employees the confidence that they can travel through London safely, work safely.”
Mayor Khan’s “key workers only” message for the capital’s public transport network might have to be tempered, Scully said, with other workers travelling outside the rush hour, and he called for suggestions from businesses about how the city could safely “unlock”.
The minister also highlighted London’s role in supporting supply chains across the country and the importance of the capital’s financial services industry for “bringing investment that is ultimately filling the coffers of small business”. And immigration had “made London what it is, a fantastic world city,” he said. New immigration rules should be used to ensure that those “with the skills we want” are welcome “wherever they come from”.
Conceding that there was “work still to do” to get post-Brexit trade deals in place, Scully agreed to work with the Chamber and other London business organisations to help the capital’s business prepare for possible “no deal” arrangements when the transition period ends, which is still scheduled for 31 December.
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