March 11, 2021.

Councilor James MacCleary writes:

Picking up the baton to support local small businesses and self-employed

The last year has been incredibly difficult for everyone and local businesses have suffered badly. Many have received support grants via the council, but far too many have not been eligible for any support at all under government criteria. This has been very frustrating for councillors who have been inundated with pleas for help from local small businesses and self-employed people, but unable to help due to gaps in the government’s support schemes.

Some have become so frustrated with government inaction that they set up a national campaign called ExcludedUK to represent those people (estimated at three million) who had received no help. As a council we have been working hard to find a way to try and help out, but have struggled to do so as government cuts to our own funding mean we are having to find savings.

It has been a grim picture that is hard to understand as the government could have easily solved the problem months ago. Sadly, it’s too late for many local businesses, but the council is now in a position to launch a scheme of its own that prioritises small businesses and self-employed who have been unable to access other support. It isn’t enough to cover everyone, but by being creative with what’s known as the ‘Additional Restricted Grant’ (ARG) that the council has received from government we are now able to pick up the baton that the government has dropped.

The new council scheme is unique as far we know in its focus on the Excluded, and will consist of four parts:

- An exceptional hardship scheme. This will support micro, small, and medium sized businesses and will include, unlike government schemes, businesses that have remained open but suffered a significant downturn in income as well as those mandated to close

- A direct grants scheme for people who are self-employed, but have not been able to access other support.

- A business adaptation grant. Businesses that need support for expenses to adapt their businesses as part of the recovery from Covid-19 can apply for a capital grant to help. That could include training or upskilling staff, adaptation of existing premises and other business spaces, or costs associated with changing the way in which the business operates such as expanding an online presence.

- A business development scheme. This fund will be available to encourage the future development of business within the District. Local trade organisations, community interest companies, and not-for-profit organisations will be able to bid for seed funding for their sector.

Anyone who is interested in these funds can find out more information on the District Council’s website, and it will be open for bids from 15th March. Many other councils have simply handed out funds piecemeal to whoever has shouted loudest.

We are determined to pick up the baton and support residents who are in desperate need whether they are making lots of noise or not. As a small council we cannot undo all of the government’s failings but on this issue we are delighted to be able to do something meaningful to help.

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