Row breaks out over council’s call on Government for funding to help Cornish businesses

A new row has broken out over Cornwall Council’s decision to call on the Chancellor to provide more funding to help businesses in Cornwall affected by the pandemic.

The council yesterday (February 9) announced that it was sending a letter which has also been signed by business groups in Cornwall including Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

It was calling on the Government to provide more funding to provide grants to businesses which have until now been unable to access grant funding provided by the Government.

The council said that demand for financial support outstripped the amount provided to the council by £14.5 million.

Due to the shortfall the council said that it would be unable to pay businesses more than 50 per cent of the money they have asked for unless the Government provides more cash.

However, while the letter was signed by all political group leaders at County Hall, the Conservative group declined to support the call.

Now the Conservative group has issued a stinging statement in which they accuse the Liberal Democrat and Independent coalition of “blaming the Government for their poor handling of the funds”.

Cornwall Council Conservative group leader Linda Taylor
Cornwall Council Conservative group leader Linda Taylor

The statement has been endorsed by group leader Linda Taylor as well as five of Cornwall’s six Conservative MPs, only George Eustice is not a signatory.

It reads: “We are very concerned that the Liberal Democrat/Independent administration that runs Cornwall Council has again chosen to politicise elements of the millions of pounds of support the Government has given Cornwall.

“Firstly they have written to the Government demanding more money to support businesses in Cornwall, but then they have made this public by replying to all of the businesses that have claimed support through the current lockdown, essentially blaming the Government for their own poor handling of their funds.

“Once again this is a discretionary fund that Cornwall Council has complete control over the administration of.

“Last year, Cornwall Council allowed businesses to apply for large amounts of money from a set budget for a discretionary fund, even though they could have made the budget they had go further by giving smaller grants. They then blamed the Government when they ran out of money.

“And this year they have done the same, telling businesses they can apply for up to £10,000 and now radically revising this after they have received the applications.

“Given their experience last year, you would have thought they would have learned to manage expectations of the businesses they are supposed to be supporting better.

“But instead they have again done the sums wrong and run out of money. And instead of apologising and admitting their error, they are trying to publicly blame the Government, which has already provided more than £500 million of additional funding to Cornwall to support our Duchy through the pandemic.

“With local elections confirmed for May this is nothing more than shameless and brazen political gamesmanship from the Lib Dems and their Independent friends who run the council. The people and businesses of Cornwall are not stupid and they deserve better.”

Cornwall councillor Tim Dwelly on Market Jew Street in Penzance

Tim Dwelly, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for the economy who has led the call on Government, responded saying: “It’s very sad to see Conservatives in Cornwall playing politics with local businesses trying to cope with the Covid lockdown. As they know our policy allowed grant applicants to request funding equivalent to the grants businesses on the business rates register got from mainstream government funds. Cornwall has a lot of small, freelance and home-based business. Why should they lose out?

“Conservative group leader Linda Taylor should also note that our call for the Government to unlock money already sent to Cornwall is backed by the entire business community. The LEP, Chamber, Marine Network, Visit Cornwall Cornwall, Manufacturers Group, FSB and more. Why is she attacking them with this strange statement?

“We stand up for Cornish businesses as a council. I am more than happy to forcefully reject the Conservatives’ call for our businesses to get less than they say they need to survive lockdown. When the elections come in May I have no doubt that the anti-business stance adopted by the Conservative councillors will be remembered.

“We should all be working together to make the case for equivalent funds to reach Cornish businesses that lost out because they didn’t get mainstream grants.”

Local Democracy Reporter Richard Whitehouse

Richard Whitehouse is the Local Democracy Reporter covering Cornwall Council and other public organisations across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, in this instance Reach PLC brand Cornwall Live, and used by qualifying partners.

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Julian German, leader of the council, also highlighted the council’s call on the Government in his announcements to this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

He said: “As we are all aware the pandemic has had a huge effect on our economy, more so in Cornwall because of our reliance on hospitality, the visitor economy and those industries which support them.

“Cornwall Council is continuing to get money out to businesses eligible for Local Restrictions Support Grants and Closed Business Lockdown Payments as quickly as we can, ensuring that all those eligible receive the funding due to them. We are grateful for the funding from Government to pay these grants.

“In relation to the Additional Restrictions Grants however, we simply do not have the money to support businesses to the level needed. We are currently working as quickly as possible to process the thousands of applications we have received for the Additional Restrictions Grant, which is aimed at businesses who were unable to access the mandatory grant schemes already in place.

“For this stream of business funding we are clear that more money is needed, and we have made the case to Rishi Sunak, MP, the Chancellor, for further funding. We have done this alongside the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Cornwall Marine Network, Cornwall Manufacturers Group, the Federation of Small Businesses, South West Business Improvement Districts and Visit Cornwall. Cornwall Council will continue to stand up for Cornwall’s businesses.”