Bill Easton

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has called on the government to do more to help small businesses that haven’t yet received grants during the coronavirus shutdown.

The MP and Shadow International Trade Minister said business owners were “desperate” for news about how a discretionary top-up grant scheme was going to work.

The MP has assisted dozens of businesses to access the first round of small business grants paid out by the local authority, which were linked to business rates. But he said many more firms that don’t pay business rates also need help and time was “running out”.

Mr Esterson said: “The government has paid out a grant of up to £25,000 to businesses based on the rateable value of the property they occupy. But many businesses don’t occupy property, so they don’t pay business rates, or they are in shared offices so pay rates through their landlord.

“My staff have helped a number of businesses and self-employed workers across Sefton Central who have struggled to gain access to the financial support, which is supposed to be available.

That includes access the small business grants scheme. Salons, shops, social care providers and an events firm were among the businesses who needed help. I should like to say thank you to Sefton Council’s business rates team for assessing these cases so quickly and for paying out the grants.

“Other businesses are now desperate for news about how a new discretionary fund is going to work. Time is running out for many of these businesses.”

On May 2, the government announced that £617m would be made available to local authorities to help small businesses that had not been helped by other schemes. Business would have to have under 50 employees and demonstrate that they had seen a significant drop in income due to the coronavirus restrictions.

The government said payments of up to £25,000 could be made, and that councils would be asked to adapt the amounts depending on local circumstances. But since the initial announcement, no further guidance has been published.

Mr Esterson said: “I want to see this discretionary fund set up without delay and businesses helped now. The government promised further guidance on this within a week but businesses are still waiting. My staff and I will continue to do what we can to help businesses and workers who need financial support to survive the crisis.

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