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Bridging the gap: local authorities and COVID-19 business support

7 April 2020: ICAEW Regional Industrial Manager Rosalia Wood highlights the Institute’s work in supporting businesses in the regions through the coronavirus pandemic.

The last few weeks have seen a seismic shift in the way that businesses in the UK operate, and unprecedented levels of direct support from the Government to ensure that they stay afloat. Whilst the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is hitting the headlines, it is the grants and reliefs operated by Local Authorities that will have a huge impact on regional businesses across the UK.
 
As part of the Chancellor’s coronavirus support package, smaller businesses across the UK regions have been offered a myriad of support through small business grants for those businesses that pay little or no business rates and business rates holidays. To take the administrative burden off of businesses at what is ostensibly a time of flux, the Chancellor is requiring local authorities to write directly to those in their area to automatically register them for these support funds.
 
It is absolutely vital that these schemes are administered locally, and it is obviously a huge task for local authorities to do so effectively. Despite these challenges, ICAEW is receiving intelligence from its members across the region that some local authorities are requiring businesses in their area to register their eligibility for these schemes, contrary to the instructions of the Chancellor. At a time of such high stress for many small businesses, this is simply another burden that they do not need, and ICAEW would urge local authorities to follow the guidance given by Rishi Sunak and proactively contact these businesses directly.
 
We have also heard that local authorities have failed to adapt their working processes to accommodate communication by digital means and are informing businesses of their eligibility for government support schemes via letter to business addresses. Given the fact that many business premises are now deserted due to the requirement to lockdown, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that many businesses are missing out on valuable grants and reliefs due to the inability of local authorities to properly communicate with businesses in their area. It is with this in mind that in our contact with Government, we will be urging local authorities to update their communication methods with businesses to enable them to access the support they need.
 
I regularly work with local bodies like local authorities and know what a fantastic job they do to support their local economy. However, ICAEW is passionate about business in the regions, and will continue to protect its interests in our conversations with central government. We cannot collect this intelligence without your invaluable insight as ICAEW members. Should you have any comments in this or any other regard, please let us know by filling in our member feedback form.