Council extends Business Support Grants but amount offered ‘disappointingly low’

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Businesses now eligible for Bedford Borough Council’s business support grant scheme have described the amount offered as ‘pitiful’ and ‘disappointingly low’.

After pressure from home-based businesses who have so far missed out on any government financial support, Bedford Borough Council has adapted the criteria for Additional Restrictions Grants (ARG) with the aim to support more local businesses.

The new criteria will enable support to businesses which do not operate from a business premises but which have fixed business costs and have experienced a significant reduction in income due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions.

To provide support as quickly as possible to as many businesses as possible, a one-off grant payment of £500 or £1,000 (depending on the size of the business) will be made.

Fiona Quinn of Dolly Blue Beauty in Bromham

Fiona Quinn, a beauty therapist who runs her business from a log cabin in her Bromham garden, spoke to the Bedford Independent previously about the lack of support for home-based businesses in the hair and beauty industry.

She is among hundreds of local businesses who are members of the Support for Hair and Beauty – Bedfordshire group which is lobbying the government and councils to provide adequate financial support for those without business premises.

Read:Bedford small businesses left out in the cold over Covid payments

Speaking about the announcement from the Council, she said: “This is indeed good news and a step in the right direction but it is a disappointingly low amount that is being offered.

“I am totally aware that these grants are not to replace loss of income and to help towards fixed costs, and I will gladly receive it but I’m not sure £500 is going to do much.

“On average my fixed costs are £270 per month, for insurances, utilities etc. I have also just recently completed a stock take and due to sell-by dates on my professional stock I have had to bin £714 worth. That will need to be replaced for me to be able to open.”

Fiona has qualified for payments from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which she believes may disqualify her from receiving any further grant payments.

“In a nutshell I will believe it when I see it,” she told us.

These grants will be made as part of the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG), which is a fixed amount of funding from the Government and is intended to provide support to businesses right up until April 2022.

Each local authority was responsible for setting the criteria for eligible businesses, with many council’s – including Bedford Borough Council and Central Bedfordshire Council – facing criticism for excluding those who work from home.

Events Industry Alliance investigation finds 82.5% of ARG funding not allocated

Including payments scheduled to be made later this week, Bedford Borough Council has awarded 26% of its allocated ARG funding of £5.005million.

At the beginning of this month, Conference News, a trade publication for the events and hospitality industry, reported an investigation by the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) which found that 82.5% of the total ARG funds given by the UK Government to councils had not yet been paid out, despite the funds being issued on 30 October 2020.

The EIA issued an FOI to all local authorities regarding the percentage of ARG funding they had allocated by 24 February 2021.

Only 128 councils out of a total of 314 responded. Bedford Borough Council was among the 186 local authorities that did not provide their figures.

The majority of those that responded had allocated 10% or less of their ARG funding. Neighbouring Central Bedfordshire Council reported they had allocated just 9.8%.

The Pad Presents’ owner, Gareth Barber, described the £500 he could claim as, “pitiful.”

Gareth Barber of Esquires
Gareth Barber runs the Pad Presents, putting on events and gigs in Bedford

The events business had turned over £300,000 in 2019, but had so far been able to claim no financial support despite being unable to operate at all during the pandemic.

“The ARG were meant to help businesses adversely affected by Covid that have not been able to reopen.

“Whatever this new grant is, it just seems insulting.”

Gemma Lander, who also spoke to the Bedford Independent in February to highlight the lack of financial support she and her colleagues in the wedding industry had received, reacted to the news, saying: “To hear that Bedford Borough Council is finally opening up financial support to home-based businesses offers the tiniest glimmer of hope that the tide is starting to change.

“The amount still doesn’t bring the Borough’s support in line with neighbouring counties but hopefully if I’m successful I can help ready my business for a fully booked wedding season when restrictions lift.”

The White Emporium’s Gemma Lander, in happier pre-Covid times

MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin, had raised the issue in a letter to Bedford Borough Council and in a debate in Parliament, particularly in relation to the plight of the beauty and taxi industries.

He said: “I welcome this long overdue grant as a step forward in supporting local businesses during this challenging time. Whilst not on its own enough to provide long term support, it will be a vital lifeline for many.

“I am therefore pleased that the Council have listened to calls from myself, Labour Councillors, and many affected businesses across our Borough.

“Now the Government must do its part and provide the targeted financial support packages needed to support industries most impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic.”

Criteria

Bedford Borough Council pointed out that these grants are not intended to replace income that has been lost due to restrictions or provide income to the business owner.

The Government has put in place other forms of support to assist business owners whose personal income has been affected by restrictions. Rather, the payment is to assist with fixed business costs.

An online form will be available in the coming days to enable businesses that are eligible for this grant funding to contact the Council at bedford.gov.uk/bsg

Cllr Michael Headley, Portfolio Holder for Finance said: “We are pleased that we can now extend this support to a wider range of small businesses such as mobile hairdressers, self-employed trades people, driving instructors and taxi drivers.

“Having a clearer idea about the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown has enabled us to extend the support we can give from our limited government funding to help more businesses to meet unavoidable fixed costs.

“Throughout COVID-19 restrictions we have worked hard to provide as many local businesses with support as quickly and fairly as we can, and we will continue to do so. The online form to access this funding will be available very soon at bedford.gov.uk/bsg.”

This decision is subject to call-in from the Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

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