Business owners across County Durham have spoken of their relief at further financial support being provided during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Durham County Council extended the business rates grants scheme earlier this month, encouraging companies that were not previously able to access support to apply.
The council has been allocated just under £5 million of additional funding to fill some of the gaps in the original grants scheme, which has seen 8,651 businesses receive over £96.5 million of support.
To date, just over £1 million of that extra funding has been awarded to 135 businesses which were previously not eligible for the grants scheme.
Business owners who have received support so far have praised the council for providing the grants so quickly once the extension was announced, and for keeping in contact with them so effectively.
Keith Gill, who owns The Old Post Office bed and breakfast in Lanchester, said: “My wife and I cannot thank the council enough for their communications throughout what has been such an anxious time for us. I suspect that there are many hundreds, or possibly thousands, of small businesses like us, which have been helped by the business support grants and we are all so thankful not to have been forgotten.
“We don’t know when business will return to normal but we now have a financial fund that will help to support us until next spring, when I hope we will be in a more promising situation. For that, we’re incredibly grateful.”
The additional funding prioritises small and micro businesses in shared offices or flexible workspaces, regular market traders who don’t have their own business rates assessments, bed and breakfast operators who pay council tax instead of business rates and charity properties in receipt of charitable business rates reliefs which would otherwise have been eligible for small business rates relief or rural rate relief.
In addition to the above which follows the government guidance, the council’s policy also focuses on supporting private nurseries, small manufacturing businesses with small retail outlets within the property that sell to the public, and businesses involved in the supply chain to the retail, hospitality and leisure industry – all of which weren’t eligible for support under the previous scheme.
Businesses must be able to demonstrate ongoing fixed property costs and be able to evidence significant loss of income in order to access the support.
Guidelines around which businesses are eligible for the grant have been set by the government and the funding is limited but the council is determined to allocate this to eligible businesses as quickly as possible.
One of the key eligibility criteria is that a business must have been occupying a qualifying business premises at 11 March.
Businesses can find out more about the financial support available to them, and apply, by visiting http://www.durham.gov.uk/covid19business, emailing email@example.com or calling 03000 268 997.
Cllr Carl Marshall, the council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “We’re pleased that we are now able to support a wider range of businesses who’ve faced increasing anxiety as a result of the pandemic, and it is great to see that support being welcomed.
“We would encourage any company in County Durham which hasn’t already applied for a grant to find out whether they are eligible – all of the details can be found on our website, which has been updated to reflect our local discretionary grants scheme.
“However, we do also acknowledge that the £5 million of funding is not enough to meet the needs of all the businesses that were ineligible for support under the original scheme and we continue to lobby for more funding to help our local businesses. I understand there will be businesses left disappointed because we have been unable to help them based on the government guidelines. But we want to do everything we can to support all of the county’s businesses and we would encourage any owners which are struggling to make contact with us.”