Delays in processing coronavirus grants threatens future of businesses across Edinburgh, claims city MSP

Struggling firms will get money ‘three weeks late’

Friday, 24th April 2020, 7:30 am
Thousands of businesses have applied for grants to help them survive the crisis

COUNCIL chiefs have been accused of being too slow in processing vital grants for small businesses whose future is under threat because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson warned of “a sea of ‘To Let’ signs above shop fronts across this city” unless the life-line financial support was delivered on time.

And the Federation of Small Businesses said even after extra staff were drafted in by the council to speed up the processing, companies faced getting the cash three weeks later than promised.

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Thousands of firms across the Capital have applied for business support grants funded by the Scottish Government but administered by local authorities.

Mr Johnson said when applications opened on March 24 the Government was promising they would be processed within ten working days.

And he said he was “hugely concerned” to hear reports a few days ago that the council had so far only processed about half the applications - although the council says it has now dealt with 85 per cent.

Mr Johnson said: “These are unprecedented times and the task of rapidly processing these claims is not inconsiderable.

“But that comes as little comfort to businesses, a week away from month end and with bills to pay.

“This is a life line measure for many businesses who will be watching their bank accounts head into the red. Any life line is only good if it is thrown to those in peril before they go under.

“The Scottish Government promised this money in 10 days – we are now almost a month since that announcement. This crisis threatens a sea of ‘To Let’ signs above shop fronts across this city – the bottle necks stopping these grants getting to businesses that need them need to be sorted in days not weeks.”

Garry Clark of the Federation of Small Businesses said one of the biggest frustrations for firms trying to cope with the coronavirus lockdown was how slowly the support was coming through.

“It has been particularly slow in Edinburgh,” he said.

“It has improved quite dramatically over the last few days but when businesses were applying from March 24, the application form said they would receive the grant within ten working days, which would have taken you up to April 7 or 8, but by the end of last week only about 12 per cent of businesses in Edinburgh had received the grant.”

The council, which normally has just six staff handling non-domestic rates, has since drafted in 100 officials from different departments to help process the grants and aims to complete the task by the end of the month. “But that’s still three weeks later than the businesses had planned for,” said Mr Clark.

Council leader Adam McVey said grants totalling £45 million had now been paid directly to small businesses in need of support and more than 90 per cent of applications received had been processed.

He said: “It’s vital that we support Edinburgh’s local business community and make sure the financial aid available from Government reaches business owners as fast as possible.

“We expect we’ll continue to receive thousands of new requests, many of them complex, and we’re committed to assessing each one as quickly as possible.”