Last year the government awarded the council £5.8 million discretionary grant for businesses for the November lockdown, to be used over two years. In January this was increased by a further £2.6 million for the lockdown that started on 5 January.
The fund is being used to help businesses unable to access the main government business grants and focuses on supporting businesses most severely hit by the restrictions, to save jobs and enable them to continue as viable concerns.
It includes top-up payments to businesses already approved for a discretionary grant. Businesses that have received a discretionary grant for the November lockdown do not have to re-apply for a top-up payment.
Last week 502 discretionary grants worth £1.83 million were sent to local businesses for the period 26 Dec to 15 February.
At a meeting of the Policy & Resources Urgency Sub-Committee on 4 February, councillors decided how to allocate the January funding.
Support for taxi drivers and early years providers
They agreed a new business support payments for taxi drivers and early years providers which have been affected by the current lockdown.
Taxi drivers are some of the most at risk from the virus - a recent report by the Office for National Statistics showed that Covid-19 death rates among people in jobs such taxi driving were up to three times higher than the national average. They have also experienced a significant loss of trade during the restrictions, with limited or no access to government funding.
Taxis provide an essential public service and during the pandemic have been helping to transport residents to vaccination appointments.
Small one-off payments will be available for drivers licensed to operate in the city to help with fixed costs such as the taxi licence, insurance, vehicle maintenance and Covid 19 safety measures.
Early years and ‘wraparound’ childcare providers will be able to claim six-week support payments, with grants of £3,000 for those with business premises and high fixed costs and £750 for licensed providers without premises but with other fixed costs.
These new grants will be part of a massive programme of business grants distribution by the local authority across many sectors of the economy.
Over the winter period, the council gave out more than £25 million to local businesses. This comes on top of more than £69m distributed in small business grants to over 5,100 businesses during the first lockdown last year.
The council identified over 3,000 businesses that are likely to qualify for one or more grant, contacting them directly to encourage applications.
Letting businesses know about the grants remains a priority as many more businesses could be eligible and are encouraged to apply through the council’s online portal.
The application process has been streamlined so that businesses only have to apply once and a ‘how to’ guide developed to help businesses through the process.
Trying to be flexible
Council leader and chair of the Policy & Resources Committee Phélim Mac Cafferty, said:
“While this new ‘top up’ funding still comes with eligibility criteria and conditions, we are trying to be as flexible as possible within the constraints. We want to use these limited additional resources to support as many businesses as we can.
“We’ve also tried to make the process of applying for grant support as simple as possible, to help ensure the range of businesses that can apply don’t miss out.
“Despite the variety of government business grants now available, as a result of the government’s eligibility criteria there are still businesses that are falling through the net and that can’t access any of this grant funding. There are many in our city who will need further assistance to recover from the impact of the pandemic on trade.
“We want to do as much as we can to provide advice and support for any business unable to access the current schemes, in what is a difficult time – and at a meeting of full council, we also affirmed our commitment to explore any other means of support for those excluded from current schemes.”
At the council meeting on 28 January, councillors recognised that some people have missed out on the government’s Covid financial support schemes due to technicalities such as recently changing jobs, being a director of a limited company or earning less than half their income through self-employment.
The council is supporting self-employed people who have businesses where possible. Self-employed people can claim a grant if they demonstrate ongoing business expenses, such as high fixed costs linked to assets such as equipment, premises or leases. Around 20% of the discretionary grants for the November lockdown went to sole traders or self-employed people. Under the government’s rules, payments must be for business costs and cannot be used to compensate for loss of income.
The Policy & Resources (Urgency) Sub-Committee took place online. Read the report and watch the meeting.
To apply for a business grant, go to our business and employers web page, for more information and complete the online form.