This is why Preston, Chorley and South Ribble are still waiting for share of £30m Tier 3 Covid cash
Several Lancashire council leaders have said that the financial support promised to businesses closed down as a result of the county’s current Tier 3 Covid restrictions needs to be sped up – with a warning that some firms cannot wait any longer for the help.
It is almost three weeks since a series of tortuous negotiations between Lancashire’s political leaders and the government saw the county secure £30m in funding to aid those firms forced to shut and others affected by the closures.
However, the Post can reveal that the money has not yet been received by local authorities – while the government awaits a consensus amongst council leaders about how it is shared between them.
It is understood that Lancashire’s 15 council leaders agreed by a majority last week that the cash should be split on the basis of the number of residents living in each area – a so-called “per capita” distribution.
However, some authorities are thought to have wanted the payouts to reflect the fact that certain parts of the county have more businesses of the type closed under Tier 3 – including non-food pubs and bars – and for the funding to be weighted accordingly.
But South Ribble Borough Council’s Labour leader Paul Foster blames the government for placing other conditions on the cash, which he says are holding up the process of handing it out.
He now wants to dip into the authority’s reserves to make the payments to affected businesses in the borough immediately – and get the money back from the government later.
“I’m not critical of any of my fellow Lancashire leaders in this – it’s the government who keep coming back and saying they can’t agree to this or that and telling us what is or isn’t included.
“We agreed a per capita allocation straight away and I think it just shows that the [negotiations over the funding deal] were a bit of a stitch-up – it hadn’t been fully considered and it was more about government PR than anything else.
“Ultimately, I just want local businesses and the community to get the support that they need,” Cllr Foster said.
Government grants of up to £3,000 per month are also available for companies obliged to close, but Pendle Council leader Mohammed Khan says the localised funding pot is vital.
He says he, too, would be willing to raid his authority’s coffers to get grants issued immediately to hard-hit businesses – if he could be confident that the council would be reimbursed.
“It’s not fair on them to be waiting around, but we [are waiting] for the government guidance.
“We might think a particular business is eligible and give them the cash and then the government could come back and say, ‘No, these are the rules of the game’.
“As far as I’m concerned, the blame would lie squarely at the government’s doorstep for dilly-dallying,” the Labour politician said.
Lancashire spent a week negotiating a total Tier 3 funding package worth £42m – with £12m of that being the standard amount offered by the government to all areas under the tightest restrictions in order to invest in local test and trace capacity and the enforcement of regulations.
The remaining £30m can be used by councils to create a discretionary business support scheme.
That is roughly equivalent to £20 per head of the Lancashire population – the same amount now being promised to all parts of England as part of the forthcoming nationwide lockdown.
Advice to sent to councils today (Tuesday), seen by the Post, indicates that areas which have negotiated a Tier 3 deal in recent weeks will not receive additional discretionary cash for the full lockdown period – meaning Lancashire’s pot will now also have to cover support for non-essential retailers that will have to close for almost a month.
Several council leaders have told the LDRS that the £20 per head allocation nationally now takes any remaining impetus out of moves to come to a different arrangement for Lancashire.
Ribble Valley Council leader Stephen Atkinson – whose Conservative-controlled authority would receive the lowest amount of any district under a per capita allocation – said the important thing now was to “get the money out of the door fast” to businesses whose futures might hinge upon receiving it in the coming days.
“This money is about hope – making sure the businesses carry on so that they can process the furlough payments for their staff during November.
“It’s very easy to look at a graph and say certain areas have more hospitality and leisure – that is true of Ribble Valley – but I think it’s very hard to move away from a per-head payment, because then everyone can make an argument to suit their own ends.
“And now retail has been brought into this, which would complicate it further,” Cllr Atkinson said.
The Post understands that Lancashire leaders will meet once again later this week to discuss the funding arrangements.
However, Hyndburn’s Labour leader Miles Parkinson said it was “not a good place to be” that Lancashire had still not begun the process of splitting up the cash so long after it was agreed.
He believes that backdated funding for areas subject to localised restrictions over the summer – which could also benefit those businesses now affected by Tier 3 restrictions and the forthcoming lockdown – should make it easier to agree to a per capita split of the £30m Lancashire secured.
“Those who may have wanted some sort of different funding arrangement may now be in a position to say those concerns have now been addressed by the Tier 2 [funding].
“I don’t think it’s [about] the government’s position, it’s across Lancashire that we need to have an agreement.
“As Hyndburn’s leader, I want to see it divided at £20 per head – and we need to get it out of the door, because it’s crucial for businesses,” Cllr Parkinson said.
Meanwhile, Lancaster City Council leader Erica Lewis expressed concern at the “significant changes” in government guidance which now suggests that the discretionary funding is intended to last much longer than the initial 28-day period envisaged for Tier 3 restrictions prior to them being reviewed.
“We thought it was a payment to cover quite a short space of time,” Cllr Lewis said.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did not respond to a request for comment on the issues raised in this report.
The government estimates that 90 percent of the monthly rent of small and medium-sized business premises in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to be closed during the national lockdown should “broadly have their monthly rent covered” by its own grants of up to £3,000 a month – even before discretionary local funding is deployed.
CASH PAYOUT FOR COUNTY AREAS HIT BY SUMMER RESTRICTIONS
The Post understands that Lancashire has provisionally been allocated around £9m in backdated funding for areas placed into localised partial lockdowns over the summer, which were based on restrictions broadly equivalent to what is now Tier 2 status.
That money will be allocated on a per capita basis to Preston, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Blackburn with Darwen, based on how long each area was subject to the local rules.
It will be used to support hospitality and leisure businesses which were allowed to remain open at the time, but which may have experienced reduced footfall – for instance, because of the effective ban on household mixing in indoor settings like pubs and restaurants.
Councils will have discretion over the level of support provided to different sectors within their areas.
PROVISIONAL TIER 3 PAYMENTS
Based on mid-year population estimates for 2019, the Post has calculated the per capita split of the £30m Tier 3 funding across each council area, should it ultimately be agreed as the method of distribution.
Blackburn with Darwen – £2.9m
Blackpool – £2.7m
Burnley – £1.8m
Chorley – £2.3m
Fylde – £1.6m
Hyndburn – £1.6m
Lancaster – £2.9m
Pendle – £ 1.8m
Preston – £2.8m
Ribble Valley – £1.2m
Rossendale – £1.4m
South Ribble – £2.2m
West Lancashire – £2.2m
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