How funding is keeping Melton’s businesses afloat in the pandemic

For most business owners across the Melton borough the last year has been the most challenging they have faced or are ever likely to face.
Latest news EMN-211202-124257001Latest news EMN-211202-124257001
Latest news EMN-211202-124257001

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the government to close businesses across the UK for months on end in a bid to prevent further spread of the deadly virus.

Many have been supported by funding packages to keep them going and some unfortunate ones have been forced to close for good.

Melton Borough Council has allocated almost £15million to hundreds of businesses and sole traders since last March.

Councillor Leigh Higgins, deputy leader of Melton Borough Council EMN-210902-174440001Councillor Leigh Higgins, deputy leader of Melton Borough Council EMN-210902-174440001
Councillor Leigh Higgins, deputy leader of Melton Borough Council EMN-210902-174440001

We thought it was time to reflect on this remarkable period in the Melton economy and explore where further funding is available with no immediate prospect of the current lockdown ending.

Councillor Leigh Higgins, the borough council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for growth and prosperity gave us the lowdown on the council’s role in business funding during the pandemic.

**NICK RENNIE: Can you summarise how much funding the council has paid out to businesses in the borough since the pandemic began and the sectors the money has supported?

COUNCILLOR LEIGH HIGGINS: There have been two main grant periods since the pandemic first took hold in March 2020.

Melton Borough Council's offices EMN-211002-123621001Melton Borough Council's offices EMN-211002-123621001
Melton Borough Council's offices EMN-211002-123621001

The first lockdown period was covered by the Small Business Grant and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant scheme.

Through these schemes £10,590,000 was given to 888 businesses.

A discretionary grant scheme was also provided for businesses unable to access the grants above called the Local Authority Discretionary Grant Fund. Through this scheme £576,719 was allocated to 145 businesses.

Since the second national lockdown was announced and came into existence on November 5, the council has given out £3.098m to businesses in Melton Borough to support them through these lockdowns.

The businesses that have been most adversely impacted are those predominately in the Tourism, Hospitality, Leisure and Retail sectors.

Other sectors have been adversely impacted, such as those that exist within or that supply the event industry, and we try to support these where possible.

It is important to note that whilst some key sectors have taken the brunt of impact from the effects of coronavirus, we know that businesses across our economy are feeling the pinch.

Due to this we welcome applications from all businesses across the economy and will look to support businesses through providing grant funding where we can justify doing so.

 

**NR: We understand there is another pot of money which the council will be allocating.

Can you explain how much there is available and which businesses will be invited to apply for it?

LH: The council has access to a discretionary pot of funding that it is able to use to support businesses.

The council is looking to support businesses that are unable to access any other grant support funding provided by government for the pandemic.

Since the start of the November lockdown we have handed out over £400,000 through this pot of funding

There is currently just over £500,000 left in this pot to last for the rest of the pandemic.

We are inviting all businesses to submit an application, if they haven’t done so already, and this will be considered by the grant panel.

The application can be found via the business pages on the council website.

Remember, you do not have to be a private business, but could be an organisation such as a cricket club or village hall.

We have recently awarded several thousands of pounds in funding to sports club who have had their income reduced due to the pandemic.

It is why it is important to apply.

The grant panel awards money by taking into account a series of considerations such as, the number of employees, the level of fixed costs they incur on a monthly basis, the impact of the economy on their income and whether they are able to access other government support such as Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

Many business owners, such as those who recently started their business, or owner directors, have missed out through the gaps of the furlough scheme and SEISS, we are certainly looking to help here where we can identify genuine cases.

Some people, or businesses, are asset rich but have seen their income come to a sudden halt.

**NR: How do you assess how businesses are being impacted by the pandemic in the Melton borough and which sectors have been hardest hit?

LH: We are working with partners across Leicestershire to look at the impact on our local economy and to inform the support that is provided to our economy during the recovery period.

This includes the gathering and interpretation of real time data gathered through 1-2-1 engagement with businesses but also secondary data gathered at the regional and national level such as Job Seekers Allowance figures and any other intelligence we can gather from our partner agencies, etc.

Key sectors to Melton’s Economy such as Tourism, Retail and Hospitality and Leisure have been significantly impacted throughout the coronavirus pandemic as they have predominantly been forced to shut.

Melton also houses several successful small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food and drink manufacturing and events industries.

These businesses have been significantly impacted as the sectors they serve have been forced to shut.

The council has utilised the resources made available to it by government to try and support these sectors, and others, wherever possible and will look as to how it can best use the funding it has available to continue to support the economy once during the recovery period of the pandemic

 

**NR: Are there any specific businesses and sectors which you feel need more funding support from the government and, if so, which ones would you highlight?

LH: I have called on more support for our pubs and restaurants, we are in weekly dialogue with the British Beer and Pub Association along with other industry sectors.

While the government could provide a specific grant to this sector, I feel the building owners should reduce their rents to reflect the loss in commercial value and even maybe their lenders too.

We need all parties to come together and talk about this as no one is going to win if we have lots of of empty pubs and restaurants.

This is why we devised specific support schemes such as the Perishable Goods Grant (up to £750), we temporarily removed the planning restrictions on marquees and are now drawing up our Rural Pub Grant to help rural areas diversify their offer.

The government should also look to extend business rate relief, VAT reduction for hospitality.

For me this is not a time to start hitting businesses with tax rises but tax cuts to incentivise investment, job creation and build confidence in the wider economy.

Melton Borough Council has identified several key sectors that we wish to encourage businesses to submit applications to us for funding via our discretionary schemes.

We have seen a tiny fraction of businesses in the manufacturing and engineering sectors apply for grant funding to date.

A lot of these businesses may not have been able to access grant funding through the government grant schemes and may not have been forced to close but could still be affected by reduced trade, so we would actively encourage those who have been adversely impacted by this pandemic to submit an application to us for us to consider.

The council has made accessing grants as easy as possible with one grant application for all the grant schemes.

Once received grants are assessed against the relevant criteria and determined through what scheme they are able to be funded.

Another key area we would encourage to apply for grants from us are those businesses who are suppliers that rely on a majority of their income from the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.

We would also encourage businesses with a rateable value above the £51,000 to apply for a grant as well.

 

**NR: Melton has a strong reputation for food and drink excellence. Do you think the hospitality sector in the town and the villages will be able to recover from being closed for long periods with a drastically reduced income?

LH: In a short answer, yes. Melton could see a near £160m investment in roads, schools and infrastructure along with over 6,000 houses in the area by 2036.

We are looking to make Melton more accessible with support for award winning restaurants and overnight accommodation along with connectivity by attracting road and rail investment.

We are committed to delivering more affordable housing too and the key to this priority is this will enable people to reduce their housing costs and have more disposable income which can be spent locally.

In addition, a series of grant schemes have been made available to businesses in these sectors.

We would encourage all businesses to submit an application to us if they haven’t already to ensure they receive the grant funding they are entitled to.

These grants, combined with other government support, are designed to get these industries and businesses through the pandemic and enable them to survive this period and eventually thrive during the recovery period.

The council completely appreciates this will be a difficult period of time for many businesses, some councillors run their own businesses too, but we are optimistic that the resilience and innovation businesses have shown in Melton has demonstrated how the area’s economy will be able to rebound as soon as it is able to do so.

In order to support this Melton has invested in and will be working with partners to support the hospitality industry specifically moving forward.

We are currently reviewing and renewing our web presence and developing new attractions maps in order to bring more people in the area.

The council is also working with key partners to develop a Leicestershire wide campaign to put the area on the map as a place to visit and stay in order to make sure we are able to benefit from the predicted rise in people holidaying within the UK.

We will also continuing to promote messages, along side our partners, such as ‘shop safe, shop local’ to encourage our residents to use the many fantastic businesses we have in the area once it is safe to do so.

 

**NR: We have seen some businesses adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, such as promoting more sales online and setting up delivery and takeaway services. Do you feel they will continue to do this when life returns to normal?

LH: We actively encourage innovation amongst our business community and it is refreshing to see how many fantastic businesses have altered their services and offerings in order to survive this period whether it be through creating online platforms to sell their goods, deciding to develop a takeaway or deliveries part of their business or even the production of PPE.

On the whole, the businesses in Melton have proven their resilience and ability to survive and we hope they continue to develop their services when life returns to normal.

With this in mind the council is currently developing support schemes that are specifically looking to support business to do this further during the recovery process to enable businesses, where they wish to do so, to continue to innovate and thrive.

Please keep an eye out on our social media channels and website for future announcements about these schemes.

 

**NR: What impact has the pandemic had on council resources in terms of having to allocate funding and co-ordinate the operation to support the local economy?

LH: On a personal level I have seen in adversity the best from the community and our staff at the council.

I have been on many calls with business owners, some in tears, for not knowing what to do or where they don’t qualify for national schemes or grants.

This is why Melton has taken a very dedicated approach to supporting businesses through it’s grant structure only held back by the funding it has been

given.

That all said, the government has done an incredible amount to offer support too.

As well as supporting the most vulnerable in our community and businesses through these difficult times we have made sure colleagues working for us are well supported and we are proud of how they have delivered and responded to this pandemic. 

We quickly made sure that the Community Hub and Business Hub were set up providing not just a physical but also a digital presence through our website. Individuals have had to learn new skills to turn their hand to help out colleagues in other service areas which have become a priority to ensure customer queries are responded to and grants have made it out the door, on top of business as usual activities.

Like others, many suddenly found themselves working from home which added to the pressure of ensuring ICT systems worked and effective communication was in place.

The workforce has been extremely agile and flexible especially as many decisions around the pandemic have been made at short notice.  

We have used other teams to help with verifying and allocating grant applications over the last year, working with one another to ensure grant funding is paid to all businesses that are entitled to it. 

This does mean however that lower priority areas in some cases have a backlog of work which will need to be addressed moving forward.

We have received some grant funding ourselves for an additional resource which is currently being recruited in order to develop and deliver the programmes of support the council are looking to put into place for the recovery period.

This role will also mean the council will have a single point of contact for all coronavirus-related queries coming from our business community.  Government has also provided us with some funding to cover the costs of any ‘new burdens’ associated with our response to this pandemic but to date this has not covered the costs we have incurred.

Ensuring the health and wellbeing of our colleagues remains a priority; making sure they have access to the support they need especially those who are also dealing with the personal effects of coronavirus on their families and loved ones. 

Many are also juggling home schooling and care for dependants while maintaining the delivery of key services in a work environment which has fundamentally changed over the past year.

 

**NR: Is the council putting together any plans to support the business community when the pandemic is over and everything reopens again?

LH: The council is currently in the process of developing a myriad of business support schemes to support the local economy when the pandemic is over.

The portfolio I hold is in listening mode right now, and so any ideas people have are very much welcome, but we will be working with partnerships such as the Chamber of Trade, FSB, Melton Bid and trade associations.

These plans are due to be ratified by our cabinet over the next couple of months and once we have done so we will be communicating with the wider business community to detail how the support schemes can be accessed.

Go online at www.melton.gov.uk/here4melton/business to visit Melton Borough Council’s business hub and apply for grant support.

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