More than 7,000 grants have been paid to County Durham businesses to help them deal with the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak.
To date, Durham County Council has now paid more than £76 million, which is 85 percent of the overall sum that was originally expected to be paid.
Last week, updated government guidance extended the support grants to charities, meaning an additional 427 organisations would benefit from the grants across the county.
Council staff have worked tirelessly to contact all qualifying businesses, including those charities that were originally not included in the scheme, while continuing to process all other claims received as quickly as possible.
The council now expects to pay just under £95 million once all 8,697 grants have been paid to those businesses that are eligible.
The grants of either £10,000 or £25,000 are designed to help small businesses that have been affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, with many business owners continuing to praise the council for the way it has worked with them to establish simple claims processes.
Paul Ruscoe, the managing director of R&R Bearings Ltd in Consett, said: “The speed in which this support has been provided is mind blowing. After seeing some green shoots over the last two years, we were cautiously optimistic about our future.
“Unfortunately, our telephones have become quieter because of COVID-19 and we have some serious challenges ahead. However, this grant will help us massively over the coming weeks and make a big difference to our business.”
The grants are also helping some owners to diversify and strengthen their business.
Xiao-He Chen, who owns The Mason Arms in Stanley, said: “Not only will I be able to pay off my existing standing orders and bills, the grant will also help me to fulfil my ambition of diversifying the business.
“With the closure of my pub, I now hope to be able to provide food delivery and takeaway for the local community. That could be life changing to my business as well as myself and would make a huge difference, so I very much appreciate the financial support of the council at this time.”
Guidelines around which businesses are eligible for the grant have been set by the government, and the council is doing all it can to be as flexible as possible within the constraints of the national guidelines to which it is working.
One of the key eligibility criteria is that a business must have been occupying a qualifying business premises that was listed in the council’s rating list at 11 March. Businesses who were not listed do not currently qualify.
That means some of the applications which have been received from businesses that don’t operate out of a building in the ratings list haven’t been able to be processed. They have instead been reported to the Valuation Office Agency to see if they will amend the ratings list and back date it, which will allow payments to be made to them in the future.
Cllr Carl Marshall, cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “It is promising to see that more organisations are now able to access these support grants and I would encourage those 427 charities to apply for this support. It will make a real difference to them in these very difficult times.
“I’m also thankful to our staff for continuing to work so hard to support our local businesses. To have already paid more than £76 million is a fantastic achievement and shows their commitment in such extraordinary circumstances.
“I am however aware that there are many other businesses who do not meet the guidelines laid down by government and who are still struggling and I want them to know that we are doing all we can to help them too.
“That is why we will continue to lobby government to allow us greater discretion in those cases that fall short of the national guidelines and continue to report businesses who don’t qualify to the Valuation Office to see if the ratings list can be amended and backdated so we can make payments to them.”