More businesses are set to benefit from a financial support scheme set up to help them deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Durham County is widening the eligibility criteria for its local Discretionary Grants Fund so that hundreds more businesses can benefit.

The authority is making the changes to ensure that as much of the £5 million funding pot provided by the Government is allocated before the scheme closes on Friday, 28 August.

Up until now, the funding has been focussed on businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and has prioritised support for small businesses in shared offices or other flexible workspaces; regular market traders with fixed building costs; B&Bs that pay council tax instead of business rates; charity properties in receipt of charitable business rates relief; private nurseries; small manufacturing businesses with retail outlets within the property and which sell to the public; and businesses involved in the supply chain to the retail hospitality and leisure industries.

The scheme has been extended to include:

  • Any local small or micro business operating from a recognised rated business premises with a rateable value less than £51,000; and
  • Businesses in the science and technology sector which occupy office or other flexible workspace with equivalent rent or property costs of £51,000.

The council is planning on contacting all businesses it believes will be eligible to benefit from the revised scheme to encourage them to make an application and ensure they are able to access they money they are entitled to. Each business will be entitled to claim one grant.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The county’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is very much dependent on the survival of our business community. It is vitally important that we do all we can to help them through this financially difficult time.

“We have carefully considered how to extend the scheme and open it up to support local businesses with the resources we have. We know there are many businesses that desperately need support but there is only limited funding available and we are determined to spend all of it if we can.

“We were recognised at a national level for our success towards the beginning of the pandemic in quickly and efficiently passing on funding that has provided a lifeline to many County Durham businesses.

“This was a result of our very proactive approach in contacting businesses to ensure they were aware of the support available and helping them to access it. We will once again be taking this approach as we are extremely keen to make sure as much of the funding as possible is allocated.”

The Government announced in July that its Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF), Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) and the Local Discretionary Grants Funds, which were all set up to support businesses during the pandemic, will close on Friday, 28 August. This means that the money made available to County Durham must be allocated by this date and any funding that is not claimed will be lost.

In order to ensure that all paperwork can be processed and money paid before the cut off date, the council will not be able to accept applications received after Sunday, 16 August.

Durham County Council has already issued almost all the funding it is responsible for allocating through the SBGF and RHLGF, with 8,791 businesses receiving a share of more than £98 million.

It has also allocated 54 per cent of the cash it has available through the Discretionary Grants Fund, which was introduced at a later date, with more than £2.6 million being distributed among 407 businesses to date.

Some additional eligibility criteria will apply to the extended scheme but the council is doing all it can to ensure as many businesses as possible receive a share of the funding.

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