Event businesses struggle to secure grants

EVENTS COMPANIES across the borough have been facing difficulty in accessing support grants.

Back in March, the Government announced the Expanded Retail, Leisure & Hospitality Grant scheme — designed to help businesses that can’t operate throughout the pandemic.

The grant scheme included a list of eligible businesses, but stated that it was not exhaustive. And events businesses — who were not included in the list — have been struggling to work out if and when they can access the £25,000 grant money.

Hoping to clear things up, the MP for Buckinghamshire, Greg Smith asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak in the Commons whether event hire companies qualify for the grant.

And it was confirmed they did — as long as they have a premises.

Concerned that his grant application had been refused, Richard Christmas, who owns Finchampstead company Time Marquees told Wokingham.Today he hopes the council will change their decision.

“We’ve been talking to other marquee companies and we know that exactly the same businesses as ours are getting the grant in different boroughs,” he alleged.

“It’s really annoying.”

The events industry — who earn the majority of their annual income in the summer months — may be put in a difficult position if they are unable to make up their losses.

Mr Christmas added: “Our business isn’t going to bounce back, we’re seasonal so we earn all our money in the summer months and then survive the winter on that income. This will be like having to survive two winters.

“April is the lowest point of the year for our finances, and then it builds back up throughout the summer.

“My Dad is 66, he’s about to retire and can’t put more money in. I can’t afford to put money in. We need either loans or grants to survive and it seems unfair we have to turn to loans when other businesses are getting grants.”

Cllr John Kaiser, deputy leader of the borough council and executive member for business and economic development, said: “All our decisions follow Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) guidance.

“Central government announced an additional discretionary fund, as of Friday, May 1 to support small businesses during Covid-19.

“When we receive this amended guidance we can review all those rejected in light of this.

“We will continue to support those local businesses that meet the criteria set out by the MHCLG.

“The new discretionary fund will assist those businesses that fall outside the scope of the earlier government schemes.”

But other grants, including the Business Interruption grant have been accessed successfully by hundreds of companies across the borough.

Cllr Kaiser said: “Every potentially eligible business in the borough has now been contacted about support grants.

“Some 70% have applied and most of the eligible ones have now been paid. Those ineligible have been informed or in a small number of cases asked to provide more information.

“We’ve given more than £10 million to local businesses, redeploying our staff to liaise with them to make the process as swift as possible. And we’ve also arranged for more than £17.5million in business rate relief.”

However the speed and ease of access has been questioned by some.

Winnersh resident, Paul Robertson said his wife struggled at first to apply for the Business Interruption Grant, but has now received a payment.

“My wife is the PA for a small company who have had to furlough some of their staff.

“It seems there was a bit of a delay between the council receiving the money from the government and then getting the applications up and running.

“Once the online form appeared, she filled out the form and tried to submit it — but nothing happened and there was no email confirmation.

“She tried again a few days later and it went through with a confirmation saying it would take 10 days to process and then five days later would be paid. So she has now been successful with the grant and received the money. I applaud the government for helping small businesses but it just seems Wokingham has been slow to action it.”

And another source told Wokingham.Today that they received their small business support grant from Bracknell Forest Council at the end of April. But with a smaller population than the Wokingham Borough, comparisons are not equal.

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