Leader of Surrey County Council Cllr John Ward who along with his team is grappling with the effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
There is little doubt that ‘Your Waverley’ has been doing everything possible to help businesses stay on track during the Coronavirus Pandemic. However, the picture that economic development manager Catherine Knight painted this week of the toll on the borough’s business community was not a pretty one.
” I spoke to one firm in Godalming that had to return £22m in holiday refunds – and it has now left the borough.”
She told the Community & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny Committee during a Zoom meeting that a survey of small businesses in Waverley had revealed that 30% doubted whether they could survive the COVID shock.
She said that from the outset of the lock-down, Waverley had been in regular contact with Chambers of Trade & Commerce and local parish and town clerks. It had compiled a large database of businesses and had monitored and spoken to many hundreds of businesses who were experiencing difficulties and had put them in touch with the Government’s Business Support Grant. It had worked with Surrey County Council and the Surrey Enterprise Partnership and had set up a Business Task Group to cover all the business sector.
“We have mentored many and given one-to-one support wherever we can.”
She said while many businesses had suffered from the loss of trade, others had experienced an increase in business, such as those providing Information Technology.
Her team was providing help to those who had lost their jobs or were expecting redundancy and were giving help and advice on setting up new businesses. Some flexible working space was being provided where possible. She urged everyone to access the Council’s Business News Letter published online every two weeks. It contained much useful information including signposting and new ideas.
The shock – and silence – among the committee members was palpable when she said:
There has been a massive increase in Universal Credit benefit claimants from 500 residents to 4/5 thousand and we expect this to increase!
The council was continuing to work closely with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWPP) and Waverley’s Training Services was supporting people who had lost their jobs.
The government had announced a European Fund £15m Tourism Grant to help councils open up the country’s high streets and the council had received £111,000 and was working the towns and villages to access the money.
Cllr Jerry Hyman said: I thought that the government was going to reimburse us for our losses.’ Communities Minister Robert Jenrick promises councils will not be out of pocket by Covid-19. But ‘ Your Waverley’ is not so sure.
The remainder of the members of the committee – were obviously struck dumb by Catherine Knight’s revelations. Because it moved onto the next item… The borough’s leisure centres. The subject of another post.