NEARLY 1,000 Oxford businesses have not received cash as part of a scheme to help them stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, figures reveal.

Business groups are urging councils to act swiftly to stop companies from going under and those they employ from losing their jobs.

In March, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small and medium-sized businesses to support them during the coronavirus crisis.

By April 19, Oxford City Council was yet to pay 1,395 business properties flagged as qualifying for help, the latest Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures show.

Which means that only 24per cent, under a quarter, of the 1,832 businesses earmarked had been sent grants. 

But in new data released on Monday, the figures show that only 974 business were waiting for payments - marginally below the national average of 50 per cent. 

Firms in the area have received £8.1 million so far, from an allocated pot of £25.3 million.

Councils across England had paid out grants worth £6 billion to 484,000 business properties across the nation by April 19 – just under half of the money made available.

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The Federation of Small Businesses praised the councils that are getting money into the hands of firms quickly.

National chair Mike Cherry added: “However, in other areas barely 10 to 20per cent of the grants have been issued.

“It’s those areas that must act now if they want to see small businesses survive on their local high streets when we reach the other side of this crisis.”

The British Beer and Pub Association warned pubs and other hospitality businesses could be among the last to see restrictions relaxed, making support even more critical.

Chief executive Emma McClarkin said councils that are lagging behind need to learn lessons from the best performers, and get help to businesses “as a matter of urgency”.

She added: “Otherwise, pubs will close for good and the thousands of people they employ will lose jobs.”

Winchester City Council in Hampshire had the best record – it was the only local authority to pay grants to all business properties deemed eligible.

Meanwhile, Birmingham City Council had only paid 7per cent of those in line for assistance, according to the data.

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Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “We are processing applications as quickly as we can while carrying out the necessary checks.

“I would like to thank the hard working team who are issuing grants to businesses in Oxford as fast as they can, but have also put in place a robust system in place to thoroughly verify and validate applications before we issue individuals and businesses with Government money.

“As of Thursday (23/4), we have had to reject 128 applications (10%). We have seen duplicate applications submitted, applications from companies that have been dissolved, applications from companies based in offshore tax havens, and applications from individuals pretending to represent a company to direct funds to their personal account.

“We have referred 51 of the applications (4%) to our fraud investigation team and, if fraud is discovered, we will take action against individuals that could include prosecution.

“We think it is important, when handing out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, to make sure it is going to the right place.”

Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said councils have worked hard to distribute the cash, with many setting up dedicated teams.

“Councils know these grants are a vital lifeline to businesses who may be struggling and worried about the future,” he added.

“It has been a big task to set up and administer this new scheme in a matter of weeks but councils will continue to work at pace to ensure eligible businesses receive this vital funding as quickly as possible.”

The government support takes two forms. The Small Business Grants Fund is worth £10,000 and available to those who ordinarily also qualify for relief on their business rates due to their small size.

The Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund is open to those which would have qualified for a 100per cent reduction in business rates under the previously announced Expanded Retail Discount scheme as of March 11.

Grants are provided for a business property so firms with multiple outlets can receive more than one payment.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “I am very grateful to local authorities who have been working flat out to ensure these vital funds get to hard-pressed small business owners.

“Government is doing everything we can to support individual councils and help ensure that these grants reach local firms as soon as possible.

“I urge everyone to keep working at pace to get the money where it is needed quickly.”