Proposed changes to Covid funding distribution in Central Bedfordshire is rejected

"That isn't our scheme, so we don't have a lot of control over it. That's why this policy's been so agonisingly difficult to pull together"

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 5:28 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 5:30 pm

Proposed changes to the way extra government Covid funding for businesses is distributed in Central Bedfordshire have been rejected.

An additional restrictions grant (ARG) top up allocation of £2.56million for the area was announced in January, following £5.77million in November.

Central Bedfordshire Council wants to adopt the fairest method of sharing the £8.33million.

"That isn't our scheme, so we don't have a lot of control over it"

It can include support to:

businesses outside the business rates system which are effectively forced to close;

businesses which while not legally forced to close are severely impacted by the Covid, such as retail, hospitality and leisure supply chain, as well as the events sector;

and larger businesses which are important to the local economy.

The funding has more flexibility for councils to respond to local economic needs, according to a report to an extraordinary corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

"The government suggested local authorities may take into account the level of fixed costs faced by each business, the number of employees, whether they can trade online and the scale of coronavirus losses," said the report.

The ARG cannot be used as a wage supplement, it added.

Emma Sykes, representing a group of hair and beauty businesses which have had little or no support since March, told the committee Conservative council leader Richard Wenham admitted in January the initial uptake had been disappointing and the criteria too narrow.

"We hoped the criteria would be broader for the second round of applications," she said.

"While CBC may have widened the eligibility criteria, on closer inspection it may be harder to receive the ARG fund than for the first round.

"The self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) shouldn't be an absolute block, but factored in on a sliding scale."

Head of revenues and benefits Gary Muskett said: "We're looking to support businesses which have fallen between the cracks of the other schemes and have suffered a considerable reduction in income.

"We set our grant levels to support as many as we possibly can."

Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett explained: "There are all sorts of businesses which are wholly unquantified.

"For one person it's a lot of money. For 20,000 it's not much at all. Or is it 30,000? We don't know."

Conservative Flitwick councillor Charles Gomm said: "I agree the government isn't giving enough funding to these sorts of businesses, which are going to lift us out of these problems when the restrictions are lifted."

Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey suggested removing the exclusion for SEISS, calling it "unnecessarily restrictive", saying: "Some people are throwing away stock of £1,000 to £2,000 before they can even open."

Councillor Duckett, who chairs the committee, replied: "The issue does seem to be SEISS, which isn't cutting the mustard for an awful lot of sole traders.

"That isn't our scheme, so we don't have a lot of control over it. That's why this policy's been so agonisingly difficult to pull together."

A proposal from councillor Mackey to withdraw SEISS as an issue and the grant amount lowered to £500 for single traders was defeated with five votes against, two in favour and one abstention.

The final strategy for distributing the latest funding is due to be considered by CBC's executive tomorrow. (Feb 23rd)