Milton Keynes Council in race against time to hand out £2m grant cash by end of the month
Cash will go to previously excluded at-home businesses, leisure and tourism venues and charitable trusts
Suffering small businesses in Milton Keynes could get a financial shot in the arm as the council races to distribute £2m in grants by the end of June.
In January the government awarded MK Council £7.8m in Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG), designed to help local businesses impacted by the Covid pandemic.
But investigations by opposing Conservative councillors show only 54% of the funding had been distributed by March this year.
This contrasts to neighbouring Buckinghamshire Council, who distributed their full allocation by then, say the Tories.
On 15 April, the government had advised local councils that in order to access the additional funding, the full allocation from the previous schemes must have been spent by the end of June.
Local Tory leader Cllr Alex Walker said: "Current forecasts from MK Council indicate that under the current rollout speed, the council would fail to spend the money and struggling small businesses across MK would miss out on £2.35m of funding."
Now, following Conservative pressure, ruling Labour and Lib Dem councillors (MK Progressive Alliance) are proposing to speed up and hand out all the money over the next three weeks..
However, it will be a race against time to secure the extra funding that is desperately needed by small businesses, say the Tories, who claim the dishing out of business grant money has been "one of council’s biggest failures" in its handling of the pandemic.
"The Conservatives had previously called on MK Council to speed up their distribution of business support funding in January, but were told by the Labour council leader, Cllr Pete Marland, that they were planning to fund it at a pace of £300,000 per month – meaning it wouldn’t be spent until April 2022," said Cllr Walker,
"We warned the council that they needed to distribute the grant money quicker so that businesses can continue to operate and jobs could be saved," he added. "Now we find ourselves in a situation where business in MK could miss out due to slow rollout of government support funding while neighbouring councils get extra cash to boost their recovery."
But the Progressive Alliance is confident it is all in hand.
The £2m will be allocated to previously excluded at-home businesses and leisure and tourism venues, they say.
A decision will be taken on June 8 to extend the discretionary support grant scheme to ensure that businesses that were required to close but were previously unable to access funding, independent restaurants and cafes, arts, culture and tourism venues and charitable trusts that provide local community facilities will all benefit from funding by the end of June.
Councillor Rob Middleton, Labour Progressive Alliance Cabinet Member for Budget and Resources said: “Once again local councils are stepping in where the Conservative government has let people down."
He added: "Business owners, particularly at home businesses have been left behind and extending the discretionary grant scheme will get another £2m into the hands of business owners at the end of the month, which will be key to getting them up and running again as restrictions are eased.
“Economic recovery is a priority for the new Progressive Alliance, and by working together this is a great example of how we can work bolder and faster to deliver what people and businesses in Milton Keynes need”