Oxford City Council has written to the Government on behalf of businesses in Oxford to call for further financial assistance to support firms through the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council wrote to businesses in Oxford last month (March) to ask for their views on the support measures introduced by the Government so far, and whether or not additional funding was needed.
More than 120 businesses responded initially, with scores more in touch as the lockdown continued. Many businesses welcomed the Government’s relief efforts so far, but others pointed out that there are gaps in the support available.
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of the City Council, has now written to Alok Sharma, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to outline these gaps and the further support that is needed to support businesses in Oxford.
The gaps that the City Council is hearing about most frequently include:
- Micro (often one to two person) limited companies that do not qualify as ‘self-employed’ and receive very limited or no benefits from available schemes (especially for businesses outside of the retail/hospitality sector that are still seeing major declines in revenue)
- Rate-paying small businesses that depend on visitors and patients but are not covered by the retail/hospitality sector definition, such as various forms of private health care, physio and dental services. One local health care practice told the City Council that they have experienced a 90% reduction in patient volume, have furloughed workers, but stand to risk their practice as they are challenged to pay business rates and rent but don’t qualify for grants
- Ongoing challenges and delays that businesses are facing in getting approved by banks for the Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
- Manufacturers who have had to close that do not qualify for central government funded business rate relief
- Small businesses that are not direct business rate payers. These are often serviced office tenants who pay an all-inclusive fee and so do not qualify for business support schemes
The City Council, in the letter to the Secretary of State, also called for:
- Further clarity on which businesses are eligible for the Business Rate Relief and Small Business Grant. Warehouses, workshops, vehicle repair centres, schools and gyms are all currently grey areas that the Government has not yet provided guidance on
- Further clarity to the construction industry on how to safely operate a construction site, and greater flexibility on the delivery of Government-funded projects. Construction firms often have to meet deadlines to receive funding, but this is not possible with the supply chain impacted by coronavirus and social distancing meaning fewer workers on site
- Support to maintain the stability of the commercial property market, particularly to minimise the impact on Oxford city centre. The City Council has asked whether or not, given offices do not qualify for Government grants and retailers are struggling, a short-term financial incentive could be given to landlords to enable them to offer rent holidays to retain tenants
- Early discussion with the Government on its future recovery strategy, to enable the City Council and the businesses it supports to plan for the recovery with greater clarity and certainty. The City Council has also asked for funding to carry out this planning in Oxford, to support the reopening costs of businesses, to help workers who have been laid off to retrain, and to bring forward large infrastructure project in the city as an economic stimulus
The City Council is currently paying out more than £1m a day in Government grants to support businesses in Oxford, and has paid out more than £18m so far. In addition, the City Council has applied more than £57m of business rate relief to more than 1,500 firms across the city.
Separately, the City Council has also offered advice and guidance to more than 400 businesses in the city, including support applying for grants and rate relief, applying for funding for self-employed and micro-businesses, and how tenants of services offices and street traders can access support.
“Being at the front line in supporting our local businesses has drawn our attention to the many issues they are facing in Oxford.
“Despite the extensive business support put in place to date by the Government, our work with businesses demonstrates that there are still some critical gaps that are leaving many of them out in terms of coverage or options.
“We have written to the Government on behalf of businesses in Oxford to share the insights from our local research and help them understand the realities on the ground so they can make informed decision about future funding.
“Given the significant challenge ahead, we are committed to working in partnership locally, and nationally with Government, to support a rapid recovery in Oxford and across the country.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council