North Hertfordshire businesses at ‘brink of collapse’ after delay to grant payments

PUBLISHED: 09:24 17 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:27 21 April 2020

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Small Business Grants Fund on March 17. Picture: Supplied

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Small Business Grants Fund on March 17. Picture: Supplied

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North Hertfordshire businesses are struggling to stay afloat after it emerged that vital grant payments from the district council have not yet been received.

As part of the government’s coronavirus rescue package, announced in March, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed that emergency grants of £10,000 would be available for small businesses, to be coordinated by local authorities.

By early April, local authorities across the country had begun paying out grants – but as of 5pm yesterday, it emerged that NHDC had yet to complete a payment.

NHDC confirmed that 835 applications had been received by April 6, and said that payments would be processed from April 9.

The delay has left many businesses teetering on the brink of financial collapse with private landlords still demanding rent, and some workers still requiring salary.

NHDC said that installation of new software was responsible for the delay, and assured businesses that grants will be coming through from today, and on Monday.

Diana Garanito, owner of Belisily Kids Cafe in Letchworth, said she feels “let down” by the council, and is still expected to pay rent to her private landlord despite having had no income for over a month.

“Our finances are in a terrible state,” Diana admitted. “I have bills to pay and unfortunately I expect to lose my entire workforce as a result of this.”

“We have not received a single email from the council – not one. If they had just been transparent and told us there had been a delay, then at least you can begin to plan. I haevn’t even received correspondence confirming receipt of my application.”

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Tony Jackson, owner of Elite Vape and Botanicals, said that the £10,000 grant is a “critical” lifeline for his business, which has been hamstrung by a private landlord offering “little to no relief”.

“Communication from NHDC regarding the grant money has been little to none. We have been left in the dark, and are at the brink of collapse,” Tony said.

Alice Johnson, owner of No Morals Tattoos in Letchworth, also confirmed she had been “left waiting and waiting,” as NHDC “keep missing their deadlines”.

Alice said: “It’s not great. On Tuesday, they told me 1,000 payments would be made, and everybody would get an email letting them know if they qualified – we never received one.

“I am not saying they are not working hard, but it is well publicised that other councils have been giving out grants for two weeks now. It’s the lack of transparency. You can’t get the same answer out of them twice. Every time you call, you get told something different.”

North Herts District Council has confirmed that 950 payments worth a total of over £12 million have been processed, and will be received by applicants today. They also confirmed a further 145 applications with a value of £1.8 million will be completed on Monday.

Cllr Ian Albert, NHDC’s executive member for finance, said: “NHDC was given responsibility for distributing much needed grant funding provided by central government to North Herts businesses that qualified for financial help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know how essential these payments are for local businesses. Initially, there was a delay while we waited for the development of software which meant we could be sure that processing applications was accurate and effective.

“This is now in place and we continue to process Small Business Grant Fund applications that are received on a daily basis.

“We urge eligible businesses that have not yet applied to do so as soon as possible to receive the financial assistance to which they are entitled.”


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