As part of the budget in March 2021 the government announced they would be giving a ‘restart grant’ to non-essential retail, hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses in England to help these businesses re-open safely as Covid restrictions begin lifting.
Bradford Council announced that businesses could start applying for this grant from 1st April 2021, however they set a close date for applications of 11th April, which is strange as no other council set a cut off date for applying for this grant. They also announced that they would look to start giving businesses the grant from 16th April, given that many of the industries mentioned above can re-open on 12th April can this really be called a ‘restart’ grant if it isn’t going to be available to help businesses actually re-open? This isn’t the first time Bradford Council has failed businesses during this pandemic and because of these failures there is a feeling among those in Licence and Hospitality that Bradford Council uses it’s discretion to have a negative impact on businesses within it’s borders.
Every grant the government has announced to support businesses during the pandemic has been delayed by Bradford Council, when it’s been given out at all. In fact, the ARG (Additional Restrictions Grant) didn’t start being handed out by Bradford Council until the national media covered a campaign by businesses to find out why they hadn’t received the funding given to the council. The CSP (Christmas Support Payment) meant to support wet-led pubs over the Christmas period, wasn’t handed out in Bradford until late January. Businesses have been left wondering what happens to the money Bradford Council has been given that doesn’t get handed out? Does the council get to keep it? Could that explain why they have been so slow to give businesses the support they deserve?
This consistent late payment of support has had a huge impact on businesses in Bradford, from having their insurance cancelled to owners and staff having to rely on food parcels to feed their families. One member of the Licence Trade Association LTA) was denied a grant they should have received, the LTA contacted Bradford Council twice regarding this issue, both times they were ignored. Then four months later the business received the grant with no communication from the council as to why they had originally been denied or why it had been delayed so much.
The worst impact on businesses has actually been due to Bradford Councils atrocious approach to rates collection. Some members of LTA have struggled to pay their rates to the council during the pandemic given that they have been closed and haven’t been receiving the financial support they should have. Bradford Council made the choice to use heavy handed bailiffs who threatened to change locks to prevent businesses from trading (which is both pointless (given that these businesses were not open at the time anyway) and completely devoid of empathy) and have charged extortionate fees to already struggling businesses. There have been numerous official complaints made to the council regarding these bailiffs but these complaints have been ignored. In one case a business owner took their complaint all the way to the Local Government Ombudsman who ordered Bradford Council to apologise and refund the fees charged to the business in question. How many businesses has this happened to that didn’t think they had any choice but to pay the fees and put up with the awful treatment?
As if the above weren’t enough to harm businesses in Bradford, the council seem to have thrown up every obstacle they could think of. Take Ivegate for example, there are manned bollards at the top which prevent vehicles from going down Ivegate outside of specific times. Delivery drivers have had to park at the top and roll barrels down a very steep street in order to deliver to premises on Ivegate – is this really safe? On one occasion an electrician was allowed through the bollards, parked up outside the premises he was visiting and took his tools inside, only to come back out to his vehicle to find he had been given a ticket! Mere minutes after being allowed through the bollards. To make matters worse, on another occasion an ambulance was called for an individual that had collapsed, when the ambulance approached the bollards in order to leave, they were told they couldn’t go that way and forced to reverse back down Ivegate onto a busy road. The council’s response to this was that as it wasn’t an emergency, they had to follow the Highway Code, if an ambulance with blue lights flashing is not classed as an emergency, then what is?
The Chair of the Licence Trade Association (Yorkshire) is appalled at the behaviour of Bradford Council during the pandemic; “sadly I, in my professional role dealing with many Authorities and supporting members of our Association have found Bradford Council to be ignorant, arrogant, conniving and not worthy of the role they hold and hope that at the local elections people take the opportunity to remove them.”