Robert Jenrick said Leeds City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire were among the five councils “currently leading the way” in getting grants of £10,000 and £25,000 to hard-hit firms as part of the Government’s support package.
But elsewhere in the region firms have criticised the length of time the money from the scheme for small businesses has taken to reach them, more than a week after the Government handed it out to local authorities.
One small business owner in York said the hold-up is “causing chaos” and that they are worried about paying staff, bills and living expenses. And a pub owner in Todmorden said they feared losing their business due to the delay in the funds being released.
It comes as new figures reveal that 1,944 business were dissolved in the Leeds City Region alone in March, 62 per cent up from the same period in 2019.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership have now announced plans for an adapted 'employment hub', designed to help those seeking roles and the employers who are swiftly adapting to new demands and the need for staff.
The Government’s two schemes to help small firms ride out the storm during the coronavirus restrictions were unveiled last month by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he declared an “economic emergency”.
The Small Business Grant Fund is a one-off grant of £10,000 for those who pay little or no business rate, while under the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund, grants of either £10,000 or £25,000 are available depending on businesses’ rateable value.
Funding was doled out to local councils at the start of the month, with authorities told they “should make payments as quickly as possible to support struggling businesses”.
Leeds City Council has responsibility for handing out the biggest total in the region, at £162m, while East Riding of Yorkshire Council has been given £87m. Small authorities such as Harrogate, Hambleton and Craven received received £50m, £31m and £26m respectively.
By yesterday afternoon, Labour-run Leeds had handed out £51,550,000 to 3,550 businesses in the city and as of Wednesday Tory-run East Riding had made payments of £42.7m.
East Riding leader Richard Burton said: “I’m pleased the hard work and dedication of staff has been recognised and we are one of the top five councils in the country when it comes to paying out grants but there is still more to do and staff will continue to work hard to ensure everyone who is eligible gets the grants they are entitled to.”
Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said: “As a council, we remain firmly committed to doing everything we possibly can to help our businesses get through this difficult time, and if we remain resolute and united to defeat this virus together we will succeed.”
Writing on Twitter on Wednesday, Communities Secretary Mr Jenrick said of the five best-performing councils: “I congratulate all of them, and all of the other councils around the country who are working tirelessly to get these grants to those who need them.”
In York, businesses have hit out at the delays to the scheme after the city council said only £4m of the £44m handed to the council had been paid out.
A spokesperson for City of York Council said about £1.2 million had been paid out on Tuesday morning. By Wednesday they said £4m had been paid, with 2,700 applications received.
Ray Neal, from Sunshine tanning and beauty salon in York, told the Local Democracy Reporter service: “The amount of time that it is taking for the grants to be issued to small businesses is causing chaos.
“Whilst the news was received that the Government would be paying the grants as soon as possible two weeks ago, in reality despite the applications being on the council website last Tuesday, the actual funds are yet to be released. The amount of pressure that small business owners are all suffering is horrendous.”
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority announced this week that it had adapted its existing employment hub to help local businesses. As part of a 'matchmaking' service it refers suitable candidates for new roles and ensures available workforces are signposted to new job opportunities in the hub database.
Businesses looking to make redundancies, particularly those with less than 20 redundancies who don’t qualify for government redundancy support, can refer staff to the employment hubs for job search support.