The Taskforce that we convened several weeks ago has been lobbying central Government about support required for the businesses based in the region, and this has seen several new initiatives come to realisation.
By bringing together local authorities, business representative organisations (BROs) and other relevant bodies to work together, the Solent Task Force have been able to assemble feedback from a vast range of businesses and has helped the Government to establish an 'on-the-ground' picture of the reality being faced by many of them in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recent Government announcements including the Bounce Back Loans are one example of the type of support put in place in lieu of this feedback, as many businesses reporting that they were unable to use personal security to get the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans that have been available since mid-April.
The Solent Task Force has been created to share best practice and intelligence, particularly related to business rates relief and administering the small grants programme making the process quick, easy and standardised across the Solent.
Our Board Director SJ Hunt, who has been chairing the Task Force meetings virtually, said:
“Despite the Government communicating with businesses about the help available to them, we wanted to ensure, at a local level, that everyone has access to the information which applies to them and that the process of acquiring that help is as straightforward and streamlined as possible. We also wanted to support the Government in identifying any gaps that might be appearing so that they could consider taking specific action to tackle these."
We also facilitated a Leaders Forum of all Council Leaders based in the region, who again, combined their efforts for local businesses in the area in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and who have sought additional support from Government. This group wrote a joint letter directly to the Secretary of States, Alok Sharma (Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and Robert Jenrick (Housing, Communities and Local Government) explaining that while the high level of support was appreciated, there was more that the Government could do to support regional businesses.
This included the fact that some businesses were not eligible for existing support provided through local councils, and they asked the Government for flexibility to provide support on a wider basis, thereby potentially saving more business from insolvency, and the resulting impact that would have on the Solent economy. Business Secretary Alok Sharma has since announced a top-up to the local business grant funds scheme in the form of a discretionary fund set up to accommodate certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme. The allocation of this funding will be at the discretion of local authorities and further guidance will be set out shortly.
Nicola Bailey, Development Manager for Dorset, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, from the Federation of Small Business said
"Our business community is being challenged like never before and the Federation of Small Business recognises the need for all parts of the business support structure to work together to support regional businesses as much as possible, as they are the heart and soul of the area's economy. The Solent Task Force has worked quickly and effectively to do this, and we are seeing an increasing amount of businesses taking up the support, funding and other initiatives that are being offered nationally and regionally since we started working collectively."