Publicans ‘losing sleep’ over slow grant process

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Confused: publicans have shared their stories of uncertainty with timescales of payments from local councils
Confused: publicans have shared their stories of uncertainty with timescales of payments from local councils

Related tags Council Coronavirus

Councils processing applications for the Government hospitality grants at a slow pace has left operators frustrated and concerned they will not be able to meet immediate costs.

The Morning Advertiser’s​ readers said they feel left in the dark by poor communication from councils and are urgently awaiting payments of the £10,000 or £25,000 grant money.

It comes as a coalition of trade bodies wrote to the Government urging it to tell councils how immediate the need from pubs​ was.

Research also revealed that just 9% of the money set aside for small businesses has been delivered, around £1bn out of a total support package of £11bn.

Some operators said they had problems with their local authorities asking for multiple documents while others said they struggled to get in contact with anyone at their council or confirm a timescale of payment.

Poor communication

Chef-patron Bryn Jones, from the Oxford Arms, Kidlington, Oxfordshire, said he had struggled with accessing the £25,000 grant he was eligible for from Cherwell District Council.

He said: “It’s very poor. They said they hadn’t received the funds but every Covid-19 report from the Government says they had it on 1 April. So there seems to be confusion and a lack of clarity.

“It’s pretty urgent because suppliers are on our backs and it doesn’t seem to be happening. I understand that some other pubs have had their money.”

The operator does not know when he can expect to receive any payment. 

One operator of a pub in Staffordshire described the lack of communication as the worst part.

She said: “I realise council employees are likely to be equally frustrated with the situation. They were in the dark for a long time too.

“When I first communicated with them, via telephone, the staff member simply said that she couldn’t do anything because the funds hadn’t arrived with them.

“I do wish that they had made it more clear on the website so that we all knew what was happening as soon as they did. That would have at least given confidence that it was eventually going to happen.”

Losing sleep

The publican added: “It was not only me that was concerned, my staff were (and still are) terrified that they wouldn’t get any money because the furlough also isn’t accessible yet either. I am scratching the bottom of the barrel in order to make sure they can pay their bills in the meantime.

“It’s frustrating, until the money arrives into my account, I will continue to lose sleep worrying about how I will pay the bills.”

The Morning Advertiser​’s readers have also shared their confusion and frustration on social media.

Some councils have asked pubs to provide further evidence such as bank statements, which operators say has dragged out the process. 

Councillor Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire Council, explained the council’s stance on asking for additional documents.

He said: “We are not routinely asking for bank statements as part of the arrangements for paying out these grants, but we may ask for supporting evidence where any queries or discrepancies are identified and will do everything we can do make this process as painless as possible, keeping, as always, to data protection principles.”

North Somerset council said it had introduced an automated process to deliver up to £40.3m in grants, which would speed up delivery.

A spokesperson added: “The number in this team has been increased and they will be working over the holiday weekend to ensure we process a significant number of applications over this period to alleviate delays where possible.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The package of support the Government has announced is very generous. Unfortunately, the delivery of that support has been far too slow, and businesses cannot wait any longer.”

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “Councils are leading local efforts to support businesses as they try and cope with the coronavirus outbreak. 

“They are working at pace to ensure this vital funding can reach businesses as quickly as possible and are distributing money in their area.

“We are supporting councils to identity and resolve practical issues around this scheme.”

The Government said on Monday 6 April that all councils had received funding to make the payments for the grants.

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