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Hospitality businesses losing out on thousands of pounds over 'painful' government grants process

11 January 2021 by
Hospitality businesses losing out on thousands of pounds over 'painful' government grants process

Many hospitality business owners are struggling to access Covid support grants through their local councils, with one describing the process as a "total farce".

Last week chancellor Rishi Sunak announced further one-off payments of up to £9,000 to help venues survive through to spring, but numerous operators told The Caterer they are yet to receive cash grants dating back to October.

The money is being distributed by local authorities, and while some have been quick to process applications, others have left businesses frustrated with their slow response.

One London restaurant operator, who did not wish to be named, said the process was painful.

He described waiting weeks for a response from the council after submitting multiple forms for different sites, only to be told they could not accept PDFs of bank statements submitted.

"[It's a] total farce given the emergency nature of these grants, and also the relative ease with which those first batch of grants way back in March were administered, as well as furlough and Eat Out to Help Out rebates."

Graham Harris, chief financial officer at the East London Pub Co (pictured), said he had not received any grants for four pubs from three separate London councils despite completing lengthy online applications. This includes the £1,000 for wet-led pubs promised by Boris Johnson in December.

He said: "The support from the local authority is just not there. We've still got bills to pay and we made a big loss for the last 12 months."

Other bar and restaurant owners said when grants were paid out it was unclear which time period the money was covering.

Thomas Holodynsky, operations manager of Great Northern Group, which includes 11 pubs and a brewery, said: "There is no explanation or breakdown on what is for us to check and whether it is correct or not. The lack of transparency and support as a whole has been draining and stressful and makes business owners incredibly anxious."

Holodynsky runs venues in different council areas and said the difference in responses was "frustrating". He added that while some had been helpful and quick to pay out, neighbouring authorities were far slower.

"As a business owner it beggars belief that they aren't going above and beyond to ensure their businesses survive this pandemic given their importance to the economy of the city."

One London restaurant operator said their local authority did not even have an option yet to apply for the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG), which aims to help businesses such as street food traders who do not pay business rates, to cover the November lockdown in England.

A survey by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) of its 9,000 members found less than one in four pubs have received full payment of grants they were entitled to during the autumn and winter of 2020.

Steven Alton, chief executive of the BII, said: "We have taken our findings to the heart of government, to call on them to make the process as simple as possible for all, and to support local authorities who are clearly struggling to cope with the additional demands placed on them."

A government spokesperson said: "We understand these are extremely challenging circumstances for businesses. We are working closely with local authorities, who are responsible for administering grants, to ensure that funds are paid out as quickly as possible to those that need it.

"Hospitality businesses can continue to access our grant schemes – including the newest, worth up to £9,000 per business, which is in addition to the £3,000 a month businesses required to close receive."

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