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Firms ‘disgust’ at council delays to government’s coronavirus cash grants

PUBLISHED: 15:02 17 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:02 17 April 2020

Small business owners have spoken of their “disgust” with the city council after waiting weeks for grants promised to help firms through the pandemic. Pictured, Norwich City Hall, and Lisa Abel, inset. Photo: Archant/Lisa Abel

Small business owners have spoken of their “disgust” with the city council after waiting weeks for grants promised to help firms through the pandemic. Pictured, Norwich City Hall, and Lisa Abel, inset. Photo: Archant/Lisa Abel

Archant

Small business owners have spoken of their “disgust” with the city council after waiting weeks for grants promised to help firms through the pandemic.

Lisa Abel, owner of a photography firm and sunbed shop, said she was specifically told by the council that the software had not been working. Photo: Lisa AbelLisa Abel, owner of a photography firm and sunbed shop, said she was specifically told by the council that the software had not been working. Photo: Lisa Abel

Businesses blasted Norwich City Council for alleged delays, claimed forms had gone missing and said malfunctioning software had left them reliant on credit cards and approaching their overdrafts.

Government cash to support the city’s entrepreneurs arrived at the beginning of the month but some employers in the city refuted the council’s claim last week that 500 firms had received payments.

One business owner said he was yet to speak to a single company who had been given a payout.

But the city council hit back, saying almost 800 firms had received the £10,000 grants, and insisted that “no one is slipping through the net”.

Norwich City Hall basking in the spring sunshine.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorwich City Hall basking in the spring sunshine. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

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Lisa Abel, owner of a photography firm and sunbed shop, said she was specifically told by the council that the software had not been working until Tuesday, April 14 - five days after the council said 500 businesses had been paid.

She said she was fearful for business owners waiting for money which is not coming - who would not be aware of the situation without contacting the council themselves.

“The delay was faulty software,” she said. “They had to order new, which arrived on Tuesday this week.

“People who applied on April 6-7 had their forms go missing. They’re aware of a bug on the software where forms were getting lost.

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“There’s now going to be all these businesses that applied who now think their getting money who just won’t.

“It just disgusted me - what a system.”

Ms Abel was asked to resubmit her own form in order to receive the money and has now been told she will receive her payment within days.

She added: “I called yesterday and said this can’t go on. I’m now approaching my overdraft.

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“Why should I be in that when this is my money? I couldn’t even pay myself my salary - I’m using my credit card.

“Is it just whoever shouts the loudest gets helped?”

While another business owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “I’ve found no one who’s already been paid. I don’t believe it.

“Our business stopped overnight - that £10,000 is needed.”

He added: “I heard last week their software was being tested and wasn’t ready, and wouldn’t be ready until this week at best.

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“I got through to the council and was told that some forms had gone missing. They were having great staff shortages and were having trouble.”

Norwich City Council did not respond to repeated requests for the names of the 500 businesses which they said were paid last week.

When asked, the council also would not confirm when the software was ready and when the first payments were issued.

The council also would not confirm whether any forms had previously gone missing, or say how many members of staff were working on the payments.

READ MORE: Businesses receive more than £18m to stay afloat during coronavirus pandemic

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

“Nearly 800 Norwich businesses have now received their grants. This equates to nearly £14m worth of payments made by the city council. By the end of this week we will have paid out 40pc of the funding which means we’re firmly on track to meet the government target of paying out all business grants by the end of April.”

He added: “We want to assure all businesses that no-one is slipping through the net. Allocating funding quickly is essential and our revenues and benefits team is working flat out to do this, but we have to strike a balance between speed and accuracy.

“Please bear with as we continue to devote all the necessary resources to getting on with the essential business of processing grants.

“Please fill in a small grants form if you’ve not already done so.”

• Have you been affected by the delays to small business grants? Please contact reporter Jessica.Frank-Keyes@archant.co.uk.


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