On Friday leaders of Hastings Borough Council trumpeted its success in distributing £1m of discretionary cash to local businesses hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
In her weekly video address to local people the council’s leader Kim Forward said: “I am glad that we’ve distributed this fund quickly to those eligible who need support.”
HBC says the discretionary grant scheme funded by central government and administered by the council has paid out over £1 million to 114 local businesses.
It’s not, however, the whole story and what neither an HBC press release issued yesterday nor Ms Forward’s video told local people is that in terms of distributing other, more significant, business support that is worth more than £27m, HBC has been ranked one of the poorest performing councils in the country; in one measure used to assess 314 councils HBC was at 306 ninth from bottom.
The £27m was allocated to HBC right at the start of lockdown. It was designed to provide grants of £10,000 to small businesses to help tide them through the crisis, making sure they had cash to pay essentials like rent. For many of those small, sometimes one or two-man businesses, the grants have been a lifeline allowing them to survive. Councils were also tasked with making contact with those eligible for funding, making sure they were aware the cash was available.
But even now several months later HBC has not reached all eligible businesses. Figures published yesterday show HBC having paid put only 72 per cent of the cash that government has made available to it – one of the poorest performances of any council in the country and leaving the it holding on to £7m that should be in the hands of small businesses, helping boost the economy of Hastings and St Leonards
While it has reached 1,727 businesses out of 1,967 that are eligible it still leaves HBC at number 263 out of 314 in the comparisons with other local authorities.
Despite this Councillor Peter Chowney lead councillor for Finance Management and Estates says: “We have been determined to do all we can to help our local businesses throughout the pandemic.”
Councillor Rob Lee who leads the opposition Conservative group on the council said yesterday: “HBC has been one of the slowest councils in the country to give out this money and this has caused unnecessary stress and hardship for local small business owners.
“Businesses in Hastings and St Leonards are owed an apology from the council for their typically slow response to this crisis. For some, the money would of come too late and they will have closed their doors forever. This is another sad example of the leadership at the council performing poorly.”
We have asked Hastings Borough Council for a comment.
What is perhaps more worrying is that the performance of HBC has deteriorated in the last four months, figures available by clicking here show HBC already performing badly back in April.
On April 27th when comparisons were first published it was 267th out of 314 councils with 52.4 per cent of its initial allocation of £27,782,000 paid out and 205th for the 1,238 or 62.94 per cent grant payments out of 1,967 businesses identified as in scope to receive a grant. Updeated figures published yesterday saw HBC fall to 306th (ninth lowest) with 72.26 per cent of its allocation paid out (£20,075,000), and 263rd for the number of grants paid out with 1,727 (87.71 per cent) grants paid out of 1,969 businesses identified as in scope to receive a grant.