Council asks government for extension to discretionary grant

Published: Wednesday, 19th August 2020

Oxford City Council is calling on the government to consider extending the Local Authority Discretionary Grant Scheme, using underspend in other schemes.

Using this underspend could give the Council a further £3m to support local small and microbusinesses.

Grant schemes for businesses in Oxford

Supporting local businesses to survive and recover from the disruption brought about by the current crisis is a key priority for the City Council. The Council recognises and welcomes the business support and funding that the Government has announced nationally and locally, and has been working hard to make sure eligible businesses receive their entitlement. Council staff have contacted local businesses to let them know what they can receive, even going out knocking on businesses’ doors to make sure as many as possible are reached.

The Council is able to use a variety of government schemes, including the Discretionary Grant, which has allocated £1.419 million of additional funds to Oxford City Council. This came on top of the £28.38 million under two other schemes: the Small Business Fund Grant (SBFG) and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG).

The City Council is working closely with businesses to understand the issues they face and has geared up quickly to administer the available grants, being one of the first councils in the country to start issuing the funding.

Unclaimed £3m could save Oxford businesses

The request to extend the scheme, in a letter to The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, follows review of the SBFG and RHLG applications, which show £3m remains unclaimed. Reallocating this to the Discretionary Grant Fund could help save viable businesses in the city.

When the Government asked the City Council to estimate how many businesses would be eligible for an SBFG or RHLG grant, the Council calculated that large chains would apply up to State Aid limits, increased temporarily to £800,000, making a total of £28.38 million. But many of larger chains have chosen not to access these grants in Oxford. As a result the Council has now revised the estimate downwards to just over £25.3m.

The Discretionary Grant Fund gave Oxford £1,419 million to support small and micro businesses that are not eligible for other grant schemes. By Friday 14 August the City Council had awarded £1.029m to 159 businesses and received 486 applications. The Council expects this fund to be over-subscribed, but extending the scheme and reallocating the £3m unclaimed grants could cover the shortfall.

“Given this track record, and with significant challenges ahead, we request that the Government considers extending the Discretionary Grant pot where over-subscribed, utilising the residual funds from the £28.3m for the two original grants.

“We believe that any additional funds should take account of the actual demand experienced by local authorities. Otherwise, we will face the difficult choice of not being able to support some long-term viable businesses.

“I would welcome this being considered and taken forward urgently, as the scale of demand for the Discretionary Grant becomes clear over the coming weeks.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Oxford City Council Leader