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Thousands of small business owners still waiting for ‘emergency’ grant aid

PUBLISHED: 06:00 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:36 04 May 2020

Jeanie Feneron, owner of the Banningham Crown. She faced an agonising wait to receive the emergency grant fund from the government but finally received it last week. Pic: Archant

Jeanie Feneron, owner of the Banningham Crown. She faced an agonising wait to receive the emergency grant fund from the government but finally received it last week. Pic: Archant

Thousands of small businesses in Norfolk are still waiting for vital grant aid a month after it was promised by the government.

Un Cafe, North Walsham Road, Beeston St Andrew, near Norwich. Pic: Un Cafe.Un Cafe, North Walsham Road, Beeston St Andrew, near Norwich. Pic: Un Cafe.

Thousands of small businesses in Norfolk are still waiting for vital grant aid a month after it was promised by the government.

On average, half of the money earmarked as emergency grants to help firms weather the coronavirus crisis has been distributed by local councils.

This equates to around £6bn of £12bn of funding allocated to 481,000 businesses nationwide out of 965,000 under the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure grant funds announced by the chancellor on March 17.

The rest are still waiting.

Steve Clarke, who runs the Un Cafe with wife Lynda. They have been told they are not eligible for the emergency grant funding. Pic: Un CafeSteve Clarke, who runs the Un Cafe with wife Lynda. They have been told they are not eligible for the emergency grant funding. Pic: Un Cafe

In Norfolk, an average of 46.2pc of businesses had received the grant as of April 19 but councils have stepped up payments. Norwich City Council which, as of April 19, had paid 32pc of eligible firms, has now paid 72pc. Broadland District Council had paid 66.9pc of its firms.

Around £30m has been handed out in total to 2,233 businesses by Norwich City Council. Councillor Alan Waters, leader of the council, said: “Our council staff have really pulled together to get the grants paid and we continue to pay money out daily. Our final push is to get those businesses who have not yet applied to do so.”

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Those who have received the grant said it could make all the difference.

Jeanie Feneron, who runs the Banningham Crown near Aylsham, had feared she would need to dig into her own savings to pay furloughed staff and suppliers while waiting for emergency grant funding and a business interruption loan. But last week, the grant funding came through from North Norfolk District Council. “The immediate cash crisis has gone so I don’t have to worry,” she said. However, she is still waiting for the loan.

Other business owners are finding they are not even eligible for grant money. Lynda and Steve Clarke, who run Un Cafe, North Walsham Road, Beeston St Andrew, near Norwich, do not meet the criteria because despite them being a registered business, they rent from a landlord who pays the business rates.

The emergency grants – which give either £10,000 or £25,000 – are worked out on a firm’s property rateable value and also exclude non business rate payers.

Mrs Clarke said: “I fear that our business will be unable to survive this crisis, not only having a devastating effect on us personally but also affecting our members of staff who will be left without jobs.

“I appreciate that the government is working really hard but there has to be a fairer way of looking at the grant system. It means the difference between having to fold the business or being able to open again once we come through this.”

A Norwich City council spokesman said: “We know this is an incredibly difficult time for small businesses and we are doing everything we can as quickly as possible to support them and help with cash flow.”

But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) chairman Mike Cherry said: “Access to these grants will decide the fate of their futures...,the funding is there to be used to ensure we have a strong and robust economy to bounce back with once restrictions ease, so it’s inexcusable for any council to delay.”

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