The Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has instructed councils to speed up their distribution of emergency Covid grants worth up to £253 million after the high street witnessed its worst decrease in December.
Mr Kwarteng issued his call to local authorities after councils were criticized for the “glacial” rollout of Covid funding.
He wrote to council leaders to warn them on their slow progress and “instruct them to distribute the money to those that need it”, also warning that “jobs, livelihoods and communities” depend on the cash.
The warning came after businesses, particularly the hospitality and on-trade wich saw a wave of cancellations, suffered a record Christmas sales drop following the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
“My message to you today is simple: businesses need you and your staff to help them through this period,” Mr Kwarteng wrote in a letter to councils.
“The funding we have allocated needs to get to businesses to protect jobs, livelihoods and communities.
“The sooner applications are processed and funds are distributed, the sooner we will be able to provide businesses with the confidence and security they urgently need.”
By the end of November, councils had received more than £2 billion for additional restrictions support grants – mostly allocated by July – but were still sitting on £253 million of it, indicating delays in reaching businesses in need.
Mr Kwarteng has encouraged officials to take part in the “national effort to beat the virus” more quickly with the next round of funds.
Omicron grants totaling £635 million are available as part of the new scheme for hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses across England, with £100 million for companies, and equivalent cash for distribution by the devolved administrations.
“I am calling on councils across England to continue to do their bit in the national effort to beat the virus while safeguarding jobs and businesses. Hard-working people across the country are counting on you,” Mr Kwarteng added.
The letter can be viewed here