That the decision to approve the scheme taken by the
Chief Executive be noted.
(B) That delegated authority is granted to the Head of Revenues & Benefit service in consultation with the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Financial
Sustainability to revise the scheme where appropriate.
The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability submitted a report which was to note a decision of the Chief Executive to approve a scheme for the Local Authority discretionary Grant Fund under the Council’s urgency provisions.
The Executive Member explained that following the second national lockdown, the government announced in November 2020 further grant funding for businesses for those affected by the restrictions then imposed. This included the Additional Restriction Grant (ARG), a discretionary grant for local authorities to design and administer under which funds could be allocated to eligible businesses. To avoid delays the Chief Executive used urgency powers available within the Constitution. It was noted that the Constitution requires that it be brought back to the next meeting of the Executive for noting when such decisions are taken under these powers.
The Executive Member also sought Members’ support that delegated authority be granted to the Head of Revenues and Benefit in consultation with the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Financial Sustainability to revise the scheme, where appropriate.
Councillor Wyllie referred to the information contained in paragraph 2.3 of the report which appeared to conflict with the information on the online form (the date for applications had closed); this asked applicants to state their last date of trading. He felt that this wording may have deterred applicants from applying for a grant that they may have been entitled to and should have asked applicants if they were still trading as a Yes/No answer. If the answer was “yes” they should have been asked the date of their last trading date. Councillor Wyllie suggested that the date for applications should therefore be extended and that the wording on the online form be rephrased to make it clear that if there were still trading; they could still apply for a grant.
The Head of Revenues and Benefits and Shared Services explained that it was always the intention to maximise take up of the grant and that if there was anything unclear, then an approach could have been made by the applicants to the Council for clarification. She appreciated that some might not have wanted to contact the Council and may have excluded themselves. The Head of Revenues and Benefits said that if Members wished to extend the time limit, it was for them to decide but that this may create a delay in paying those who had already applied.
The Chief Executive acknowledged the issue of a lack of clarity and agreed that people could have phoned to seek clarification. He commented that it was possible to extend the scheme for a few days with a caveat that this would delay payments to other applicants.
The Leader sought Members views on extending the scheme for a couple of days, suggesting that this could be publicised via social media, and updating the website and to disseminate information as far as possible so that if people had misconstrued it, gave them an extra opportunity to apply. The Leader said that there was a need to mindful of the new scheme which the Government had announced on 5 January 2021, to assist businesses through the next period of lockdown and of the pressures this caused to the revenues team.
Councillor Buckmaster agreed that potential applicants could have phoned the Council to query the information if needed. He accepted that the service was under considerable pressure but that this did not stop other applications being validated in the meantime. Councillor Buckmaster said that he didn’t think this would affect many, but was happy to support an extension of the scheme.
Councillor Boylan commented that as this issued had been highlighted, the Council had to take appropriate action and that it was only right that the Council should allow some extra time i.e. an extra 48 hours extension of the scheme. He accepted that this would delay some payments, but would rather know that everyone had had an equal opportunity.
Councillor McAndrew suggested that a couple of days would not make any real difference and that applications could be processed as they came in. He supported an extension of the scheme.
Councillor Cutting concurred to a 48 hour extension of the scheme.
Councillor Rutland-Barsby agreed with the proposed extension and thanked the Head of Revenues and her team for all their work.
Councillor Williamson was happy to endorse and extension of the scheme which he suggested was covered by recommendation (B).
The Head of Legal and Democratic Services agreed that a decision to extend the scheme by 48 hours would be covered by the wording detailed in recommendation (B) of the report.
The Leader asked Members to vote on the two recommendations with an understanding that Officers would work with the Head of Revenues and Benefits to agree a suitable time period extension but that it should not go beyond Thursday night or Friday 8th January (lunchtime). Additionally that the Communications Team be asked to send out tweets so that it can be retweeted and via the use of Facebook. Additionally that the website be updated to reflect the extended time.
The Leader thanked Councillor Wyllie for bringing the matter to the Executive’s attention.
Councillor Williamson proposed and Councillor Rutland-Barsby seconded a motion supporting the recommendations in the report and support for an extension of the scheme. On being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that (A) the decision to
approve the scheme taken by the Chief Executive be noted.
(B) delegated authority be granted to the Head of Revenues and Benefit service in consultation with the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Financial
Sustainability to revise the scheme, where appropriate.