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Government scheme for hospitality and leisure businesses during Covid pandemic mean ones like Dartford catering firm Relish are 'falling through the cracks'

The boss of a catering company says he has been "totally let down" after council chiefs rejected bids for financial support during the Covid crisis.

Chris Bowden has worked in Dartford for more than 30 years and runs the Relish hospitality business on the Millside Industrial Estate.

Chris Bowden says he's been hit hard by the lockdown (41126668)
Chris Bowden says he's been hit hard by the lockdown (41126668)

It offers catering for weddings, parties and other events.

But he says he has lost £750,000 since April as all work has dried up and warns he will have to let staff go unless either work picks up or he gets further financial assistance.

He says his firm is one of many in the hospitality industry which has "fallen through the cracks" of the various support schemes announced by the government.

The only money he has been able to access is a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan - but has been turned down for both business rates relief by the local authority and a discretionary grant to help firms survive the crisis.

He explained: "For 35 years I've been here trading, successfully, profitably, employing the local community, and now we've just been cast adrift and left to fend for ourselves.

Relish provides food and drink for events (41126666)
Relish provides food and drink for events (41126666)

"For most caterers, the summer and weddings season will make up 70-75% of our annual income. Now every single event has been cancelled or postponed and anything that has come in is for 20-30 people and that's nowhere near enough to sustain our monthly outgoings."

He says while all the majority of his 20-strong team have been furloughed, he will struggle to pay them when employers need to start making contributions in September and October.

Which will mean some lean months until the market picks up in April.

"I honestly can't see it picking up much before Christmas - assuming parties take place then.

"So really we're looking at next April assuming events will be allowed.

"I've taken on a big Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan to cover the shortfall. I'm just building up a debt - which has to be repaid. We've had no grants, no rates relief."

Mr Bowden says the loss of weddings has cost his business £750,000
Mr Bowden says the loss of weddings has cost his business £750,000

The council rejected his bid for relief or a grant citing that after a visit an officer advised his property is "not being wholly or mainly used for visiting members of the public so would not be eligible for a Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Grant".

In a letter seen by KentOnline, it said: "Whilst I note that you may work in the hospitality industry, in order for the grant and expanded retail discount to be applicable, the main use of the property must be for visiting members of the public."

Clients pay for the tastings and Mr Bowden says he takes no online sales at all with all his business secured following visits from the public.

"For 35 years I've been here trading, successfully, profitably, employing the local community, and now we've just been cast adrift and left to fend for ourselves"

Government recommendations set out the criteria “is not intended to be exhaustive” and notes “varied uses exist within qualifying purposes”.

But a council spokesman said as Mr Bowden's business did not operate as a shop, restaurant, cafe, cinema, live music venue, hotel, provide guest accommodation or had visitors for assembly and leisure that it meant he was not able to receive help.

The authority said its interpretation of "wholly or mainly used by visiting members of the public" outlined in the government guidelines meant that "more than 50% of the property must be used by visiting members of the public".

In a statement, the Dartford council said: "Additionally, the company would also not be eligible for the small business grant which is only available to ratepayers who occupy only one property.As the company occupies more than one property they cannot claim small business rate relief and, therefore, can also not claim a small business grant."

Mr Bowden says he will appeal the rejection.

He is challenging the council’s ruling as he says the majority of his customers visit the premises to taste samples and try drinks before agreeing to let them cater an event.

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