Published: 14:13, 24 November 2020
| Updated: 08:15, 02 December 2020
Businesses forced to close through the second coronavirus lockdown have been left anxiously waiting for weeks after being told a technical issue meant they were unable to apply for vital cash.
Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and scores of other non-essential business across Medway are yet to receive any money from the government schemes announced at the start of November.
The delay has left about 2,000 businesses in the lurch with no income and bills and rent still to pay.
The Local Restrictions Support Grant supports businesses closed down by law in the second lockdown by releasing funds to help cover their costs. The money has been sent to Medway Council which then is responsible for processing applications and releasing the cash to businesses.
Neighbouring authorities started issuing cash weeks ago including Gravesham which started taking applications on November 13.
Businesses phoning the council were told issues with the application forms issued by the government to Medway Council could not be uploaded properly to the council's website as they were not compatible.
But the council has said there was never a fault as the link went live on Tuesday.
Landlord Nathan Morgan, who runs The Sportsman in Strood, says the delay for him in accessing the grant has stretched his business to the limit.
"A lot of us are just one man band traders and it's hard enough as it is with restrictions put on pubs like closing at 10pm, seating and masks," he said.
"I was missing about £2,000 a week income so there's just no spare cash sitting around.
"We need our money. I know everyone is struggling but it's just not been good enough."
Mr Morgan received £10,000 in the first round of grants for three months but this time expects to receive £1,334 every 28 days in government cash. Last week he spent more than £700 on fixed charges and bills.
But despite the council now being able to take applications, Mr Morgan says he is concerned for his own livelihood and other colleagues racking up debts as he fears it could still take up to two weeks for the money to arrive in his account like he experienced in the first lockdown.
'We need our money. I know everyone is struggling but it's just not been good enough...'
The council says it will be writing to about 2,000 businesses thought to be eligible for the support. Depending on the rateable value, businesses will be able to receive up to £3,000 every 28 days.
Mr Morgan, who leases the pub from owners Enterprise Inns, says his business will not survive without the grant even though the brewery has dropped rents by 90%.
"I've got absolutely no money coming in and it's running out," he added. "I'd have to hand the property back, lose my deposit and it wouldn't give me any standing to take another one on."
The Sportsman is what is known in the pub trade as "wet-led" meaning it does not serve food and relies solely on beer and drink sales.
It would take on average between £5,000 and £6,000 per week behind the bar normally which Mr Morgan says is "pretty good". But even when it was able to reopen during the summer months, Mr Morgan says trade was down to about £3,000-a-week.
With the Prime Minister announcing on Monday that England will return to the tier system, landlords like Mr Morgan whose premises do not serve food are still unsure whether they will be able to reopen from December 2.
Mr Morgan added: "We missed summer trading and the extra money we take and keep aside to help through the quieter winter months.
"It's just a never ending battle and it's going to take at least a year to try to get ourselves straight.
"I understand we're going through a pandemic and we need to try to stop the spread of this virus but pubs and the hospitality industry are getting the blame for it when statistics show the virus is much higher in supermarkets and in schools."
Phil Watts, Chief Finance Officer at Medway Council, said: “We understand the challenges that many businesses have been facing this year and we are committed to supporting business across Medway. We created a new online form for Medway businesses to apply for the Local Restrictions Support Grant (LRSG), as quickly as possible.
"Applications for the LRSG opened on November 24 and we have contacted almost 2,000 businesses, which may be eligible for the new grant, to encourage them to apply.
"Although some other local authorities launched their application processes before us, we continued to liaise with government to ensure our scheme reflected the latest government advice to ensure the funding reaches the businesses that need it the most.
"We would like to thank businesses for their patience.”