We are working hard to ensure local businesses get the vital financial support they are entitled to to help them stay afloat through this public health crisis. Our businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and what make our city special.

Brighton and Hove has the highest business start-up rate outside London, with many 100s of those businesses going to on to flourish and provide people who live here with secure employment. I understand how difficult these uncertain times are for local businesses. Every business in our city is important – be it an established hospitality business, a self-employed enterprise, a start-up, or anything in-between – each one has taken personal finances, commitment and sacrifice to get off the ground and all contribute to our local economy.

Since the government announced its Small Business Grants scheme, the council has paid out over £63 million to more than 4,600 businesses. These are grants, not loans – they don’t have to be paid back. Nonetheless, we estimate there are still up to 800 businesses that might be eligible and have yet to apply.

We are continuing to contact these businesses directly, as well as place advertisements and call-outs on social media, the council website and local media, and work with our local MPs and partners in the business community to ensure all businesses that may be eligible are aware of the grants available.

I am concerned that any business may be struggling and still unaware of the grant. Equally, I am concerned about giving any money back to Government if there is potential for it to help a local business survive the public health crisis. It may be some of the 800 remaining businesses who have yet to apply are no longer in operation, have moved or, think they are ineligible. So, I’ve also asked councillors to help reach those outstanding businesses. We have 54 councillors who cover the whole city and have good local knowledge of their wards, so I’ve asked for their support in quickly identifying any remaining businesses we know to be open, or those that have changed their names or closed.

Some businesses are falling through the cracks because they do not meet the criteria for small business grants. There are 13,500 businesses in the city, so we believe many more could benefit. We now have a discretionary fund that will allow us to target additional financial support where it is needed, meaning we can help more small businesses stay afloat in the coming weeks and months.

We know the funds we are allowed to spend won’t stretch to cover every business in need, but we can see the potential to help more businesses than government rules currently allow. That’s why we are lobbying Government, asking that any leftover money from the Small Business Grant Fund can be spent on discretionary grants. This could potentially mean an additional £5.7 million we could distribute to help more businesses survive this crisis.

Businesses in the city have already been hit by the recession and they have struggled through austerity. Now they are being hit by the double whammy of a public health crisis. Also, it’s been hard for many people in the city who usually rely on and undertake seasonal work, as the lockdown has meant we’ve lost much of the summer season. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, 95 per cent of the city’s 2020 outdoor events calendar has been cancelled. This has meant lots of people will have struggled to find jobs and pay their bills.

We must ensure that we have as much flexibility as possible as a local council to target financial support to businesses who need it. I am pleased that on Friday, all three political parties on Brighton and Hove City Council agreed to submit a joint letter urging government to allow use leftover business grant funds for discretionary grants. I know everyone who serves as a councillor here has a real passion for the city and wants to see it succeed, and we share the commitment to do everything in our power to allocate funds to help.

We absolutely do not want to hand any money back to Government that could be used to support our local businesses and economy. That’s why we are also inviting our partners in the business community, and any local business that wishes to add its name to this letter to do so. We want the government to hear Brighton and Hove speaking with one voice on this, so I’m glad the three city MPs have added their support to this initiative by writing to government too.

We aim to open the online portal for applications to the discretionary fund tomorrow, so check the council website to see if your business can get the support it needs.