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Small firms delighted at speed of grants from Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire councils

Mill Road Traders Association with, from left, Shapour Meftah, Piero D’Angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mill Road Traders Association with, from left, Shapour Meftah, Piero D’Angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell

Pampisford-based educational booking technology company Supply Clouds is just one of dozens of companies that has received a government grant via South Cambridgeshire District Council to keep the business going during the lockdown.

“It took four days from sending the application to receiving the grant from South Cambs council,” said founder and CEO Jon Scott. “They were brilliant. I was so impressed, I wrote to thank the manager. We received the full amount of £10,000, which will go towards our survival.”

Pampisford-based Supply Cloud has developed a multi-trust software platform which allows educational institutions including schools and colleges to benefit from bulk ordering, thereby “improving costs and standards” for groups of federations including Croydon-based Harris Federation which has 40 schools on its books.

Dr Roni Ajao, founder of Cambourne-based MRL Public Sector Consultants, was also impressed.

“I was so pleased,” said Dr Ajao of the grants process. “Actually I was shocked and surprised, so I sent them a thank-you note.”

Dr Ajao is executive director and founder of MRL, which works with central governments across the world to assist vulnerable children. It had started looking for contracts overseas because the sector in the UK became more vulnerable when the Brexit process kicked in. The Cambourne-based company “had just begun a project with the government in Niger when the pandemic hit”.

“We received the grant last Friday (April 10) and we’d only applied earlier that week,” says Dr Ajao.

Jon Scott Supply CLouds (33607977)
Jon Scott Supply CLouds (33607977)

A third company who applied for and received their £10k grants last week is Piero’s Hairdressing on Mill Road.

“I received it very quickly but half has already gone,” said Piero D’Angelico. “I don’t have a clue of how we’re going to open again, obviously we have to work very closely with our customers. But we applied and were give the grant pretty quickly. It is appreciated but as the Traders of Mill Road ambassador I realise many firms are not eligible - a good percentage of them are independent businesses but they don’t pay business rates. They share a building such as Dales Brewery. There’s a lot of organisations who are not going to get a grant.”

Speaking of the new systems in place Sophie Burton-Jones, principal associate for Mills & Reeve LLP, said: “The Government’s two principle business support schemes (the Small Business Grant Fund and the Business Interruption Loan Scheme) appear designed to provide financial assistance for more ‘traditional’ established companies than start-ups.

“As start-ups often sublet property or operate from co-working spaces, they are less likely to pay business rates tax than other SMEs and so are unlikely to benefit from this scheme.

“The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has already said that the government will not be able to save all businesses, so whilst it seems short sighted to ignore the smaller, high growth businesses that Cambridge is so well known for, it may be that the government’s focus is currently on saving larger more traditional businesses with bigger workforces which would make bigger headlines if they were allowed to fail.”

Announced last week, the grants offer packages of £10,000 for smaller companies and £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.

Cllr Peter McDonald, South Cambs (33608258)
Cllr Peter McDonald, South Cambs (33608258)

Cllr Peter McDonald, who is administering the scheme for the district council, said: “In the weekend before Easter we received over 600 applications and we have to fraud check each one quickly and then pay.

“As of April 8, we had made grant provision to 422 businesses totalling £5million. We estimate there are 1,700 businesses who qualify in South Cambs. The rate of payment is around £2m per day so by Tuesday we will be approaching £8m or more. In total we will be paying £20m over the whole period.”

Cambridge City Council is doing the same.

Cllr Richard Robertson said: “The city council is working hard to pay the £10,000 and £25,000 grants to help keep the 1,400 smaller businesses in Cambridge alive. We had staff working over the Easter weekend validating the forms from businesses.

“By the end of today (April 14) we will have paid out some £10.5m in grants to 650 businesses in the city. We are continuing to work on contacting firms who have not yet filled in a form.”

Details of the council’ s proposals to mitigate against the economic damage being caused by the pandemic are available here.

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