TrueStart Coffee on BBC News

I was recently interviewed by BBC News because of the significant gaps in Government funding for many small businesses, such as TrueStart Coffee.

TrueStart is all about spreading positive energy and making a change to the world, by impacting how people feel in their daily lives. To date, alongside many other small businesses we've been unable to access any of the Government grant funding support which has certainly impacted stress levels as we all navigate this pandemic. I'm really delighted to play a part in small businesses having a voice during this crisis. 

Click the video below to watch the report.

There are many businesses in the UK that do not pay business rates directly. It could be because they are in a shared workspace, for example. These businesses generally pay rates in combination with their rent, but it means they do not have a rates number. The issue here is that having a rates number was the only criteria required to be eligible to receive the original grant funding announced by the Government. There was no requirement to prove impact to revenue. Although these grants have undoubtedly helped many businesses in need, we also know of a number of businesses that received either a £10k or £25k grant even though their revenues were not at all impacted by Covid.

The Government have listened to an extent, by introducing a 5% top-up fund, to be allocated on a discretionary basis by local authorities, to businesses that were not eligible for the original fund.

There are three problems with this top-up fund. First, it is extremely oversubscribed due to the sheer number of businesses that were ineligible for the original fund.

Second, it is massively underfunded, as Bristol's Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney discusses in this report. Under the original fund, TrueStart would have been eligible for a £25k grant with no questions asked (due to the rateable value of our space), but because this new fund is so stretched, we have been told we will be lucky to receive £2.5k. This won't even touch the sides when we are doing everything we can to save jobs. Applying for this grant has been an onerous process, because the council needs a lot of information to determine degree of need. They just don't have enough money for everyone. It is a shame that the original fund did not require businesses to demonstrate a hit to their revenues, because this would have left a lot more cash for businesses genuinely in need.

That takes me onto the third issue with this fund, which is implementation at a ground level. I feel for the council, who are trying their best. They haven't even received this cash from the Government yet (another problem - make that four!) but the business rates team are scrabbling around trying to devise a system to provide grants to businesses that they don't even have on record, because by their very nature they do not pay rates and are therefore not on the council's radar. I would like to say a huge thank you to the teams at both Bristol City Council and Business West, who are working incredibly hard to support all local businesses right now. They do not have an easy job and I bet it feels like a thankless task at times. 

I completely understand that the Government had to work quickly to prevent mass panic and mass redundancies. My hope is that they listen to these specific issues and revise the top-up fund accordingly, in the same way that they revisited CBILS (and implemented bounce back loans) and furlough (bringing in part-time flexibility, removing the cliff edge). We need more efficient funding and improved implementation for this particular scheme, in order to provide for the many healthy business who can prove that they took a massive hit to their revenues due to Covid. Too many are falling through the cracks.

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