After the riots in August this year, which affected a large number of commercial properties in cities all over the UK including London, Birmingham and Manchester, many businesses are still struggling to pick up the pieces.
The Government pledged £20 million to the ‘High Street Support Scheme’, which offers riot victims grants and rate relief. However in Birmingham alone, only about five per cent of commercial properties have claimed rate reliefs. Speaking of the scheme, Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, stated: “We are making immediate financial support available to those that need help and we will continue to work closely with councils who have already responded to this violence with calm, resolve and professionalism.”
Nigel Godfrey, Business Manager at Birmingham City Council, stated: “We thought we would have hundreds of people queuing up and banging on the door to get this funding. Not so.”
Birmingham City Council have been trying to get the word out about the government money available and have even visited some of the affect commercial properties in person, as Julia Chance, District Manager for Birmingham Southside, put across: “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the message out to businesses. But in most cases these businesses have never seen a grant before. I’ve been asked five times today, ‘Do I have to pay the grant back?’ They don’t even know what the word ‘grant’ means.” So why are people not claiming money they are entitled to?
It is believed that people are reluctant to complete the forms required to claim the money. One shop keeper expressed: “They’re asking for things like business bank statements and you start thinking, what are they after? This kind of thing is very intrusive and I think it is putting a lot of people off from applying.” Mr Godfrey, commented: “We can only put the deals and offers out there. It is up to the businesses to apply. We cannot make them.”
Out of the £20 million that the Government pledged to affected cities, Birmingham has a £2 million share, but only £60,000 has been claimed so far. However, only small businesses are eligible to claim, leaving small chains to fend for themselves.
To help the scheme to be more successful, the Government has extended the original deadline, from November to January of next year. But with many commercial property owners unwilling to claim what they are entitled to, what will happen to the surplus money?
To support affected businesses, Mr Pickles is encouraging people to shop locally: “I encourage every local resident to make an effort to shop locally and support the local high streets which are the lifeblood of our communities.”