In Southwark, we place our businesses on an equal footing to our residents. They are an essential part of our community, providing jobs and opportunities, but also colour and vibrancy to our borough. So when COVID-19 struck, it was just as important to us as a council to reach out and support our businesses, as it was to look after our residents.
There are more than 16,500 businesses in Southwark, providing 250,000 jobs. That’s a quarter of a million people who depend on those businesses to pay their wages, so they can pay their rent, their mortgage, their bills. Local businesses are key partners in delivering many of the council’s commitments on employment, skills, apprenticeships and other opportunities for our residents. Many businesses in the borough have kept going through the pandemic, providing vital services to residents including NHS and key workers. By helping our businesses, we are helping our residents too.
COVID-19 had the potential to devastate many smaller businesses in Southwark. It was essential that we moved at pace to make sure that financial support was processed quickly to help prevent companies going under. We responded immediately to a new raft of government business grants announced during March, which included £10,000 grants for small businesses and £25,000 grants for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. We made sure that 965 grants were issued to businesses to the value of £19.34m by the end of the month, and by 30 April we had paid out £46.49m to 3,119 businesses. The council has now distributed over £59m in government grants to businesses and work continues to process claims. We have also applied a further £83m in additional business rates relief directly to business rate accounts.
While the government grants offered a welcome respite for many businesses, we quickly identified that there were significant gaps with large numbers of businesses unable to access funding from government. In response to this, we introduced a £2 million business hardship fund to support small businesses missing out on national support. The hardship fund, one of the first in London, received an overwhelming volume of applications and made available grants of between £2,500 and £10,000 to businesses who would otherwise be ineligible for financial support. We have also recently launched a £3.4m discretionary business grant, funded by central government, for local small businesses and market traders who have suffered a significant fall in income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis we have kept businesses up to date with news, advice and support, with regular email updates to over 5,000 businesses. We continue to support businesses with specific enquiries – our Southwark Business Desk has helped over 1,400 businesses navigate the various grants and support available to them. We know this remains a very challenging time for local businesses and the council will continue to help and support Southwark businesses to weather the storm. Looking forward, we are committed to reviving Southwark’s local economy and local businesses will play a crucial role in shaping the borough’s economic renewal.
Leader Southwark Council
Cllr Peter John