Posted: Mon 6th Jul 2020

Almost £47m given to businesses in Flintshire to deal with impact of coronavirus

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Jul 6th, 2020

Almost £47m has been dished out to businesses in Flintshire so far to deal with the impact of the coronavirus.

A large number of companies in the county were plunged into financial turmoil when lockdown measures were introduced in March to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It led to the Welsh Government launching two grant schemes to help firms survive, along with another to provide them with relief from paying their business rates.

A total of 2,557 enterprises in the area have accessed the support grants, drawing down just over £31.1m, while more than £15.8m worth of retail rate relief has been shared between 1,185 companies.

The money has been administered by a team of staff from Flintshire Council which has worked round the clock to ensure it is received quickly.

David Barnes, whose normal job involves collecting income for the local authority, said supporting businesses had been a “critical priority” since the pandemic began.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “In March, we could see on the horizon that there were going to be major issues with business, and we needed to respond to that really quickly as an organisation.

“We set up a sub group of different officers from across the organisation in Flintshire.

“This is something which was quite unique, tapping into skills and experience from a whole raft of people whose day jobs weren’t always providing support for businesses.

“My job is normally revenue income so I’m responsible for generating income coming into the council and collecting it.

“For me, it was a strange one because my priority now has been paying money out rather than taking it in which is quite nice really.”

Mr Barnes said the council received hundreds of applications per day through its website when the schemes were first launched as companies looked to balance their books.

Staff worked from home to process them, some working 14-hour days, as they looked to issue the payments quickly.

Despite the raft of requests, including 3,000 phone calls, he said the authority had managed to process most of them within three days.

He said: “When we first went into lockdown, that’s when businesses were struggling to meet their normal commitments and paying bills.
“They really needed that cash and those grants quickly.
“As an organisation we couldn’t be dilly dallying around and holding onto those forever and a day so we knew we had to respond quickly to those businesses to keep them afloat and protect them as far as we could.
“We effectively mustered a back office team of up to ten people at any one time processing those grants.

“Around the Easter break, we had teams of officers at the council who were working 14 hour days around the clock.”

According to Welsh Government estimates, if every business in Flintshire was to apply for support then a total of £49.3m would need to be handed out.

The business support grants scheme has now closed and no further applications can be accepted, but Mr Barnes said it was believed around 97 per cent of firms would have received some form of help.

Although not all were eligible for government assistance, he said other means of support had been offered for larger companies struggling with the impacts of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, he revealed not every company had experienced difficulties.

He said: “In terms of the practical help, some large businesses don’t qualify for the business support grants or retail rate relief.

“We have many large manufacturers in Flintshire and we’ve been reaching out to those to see what support we can provide.

“These are some of our biggest multi national companies which have been struggling with having staff furloughed or scaled back their operations temporarily.

“What we have done is defer payment of business rate instalments. The feedback we’ve had from many large businesses is that has really helped to keep them afloat, particularly where they might be paying a rates bill of up to a £1m per year.”

He added: “Ideally, we’d want 100 per cent take up, but some businesses have actually approached us to say they’re doing well and don’t need the grant.

“I don’t think we ever envisaged this, but not every business has applied because they’ve said they don’t actually need it.”

Mr Barnes first joined local government in 1986 and has overseen a number of major changes in that time, including the introduction of the poll tax and council tax.

However, he said the pandemic was like no situation he had ever encountered before.

He said:  “I would safely say in the whole of my career that I don’t think I’ve seen anything as challenging as what we’ve been through with COVID-19.

“We’ve achieved things so quickly in this and that makes me really proud.

“I’ve been working for councils for 30 odd years and we’ve developed a much closer relationship with businesses through these difficult times.

“That might sound a little bit cheesy, but it’s been really touching to get back such positive feedback from small businesses to large businesses.”

Mr Barnes encouraged any companies still having difficulties to get in touch with the council.

More information about other Welsh Government grants still available can be found at businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/support/financial-support-and-grants

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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