A CONSERVATIVE MP has highlighted the Government’s range of support for businesses during the pandemic after it was claimed up to 1,000 firms had “fallen through the cracks” of the Chancellor’s safety net for traders in one North-East borough alone.

Darlington MP Peter Gibson was speaking after a meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s economy and resources scrutiny committee heard the authority had awarded almost £27m of Government grants to firms since April.

Councillors were told the Government had launched six grant schemes to help different types of businesses since November 6, for which the council had received and processed 1,555 grant applications. Some of 1,133 of the applications have been approved, leading to firms sharing £1.5m.

However, when the council’s business growth manager Andrew Perkin was asked whether all firms had received support, he said many smaller and newer businesses and others that did not have to pay business rates had not qualified for the Government grants. He said the council was giving support to some of those businesses from discretionary funding it had been given.

When asked how many businesses had “fallen through the cracks”, Mr Perkin estimated 60 firms in the beauty sector alone were ineligible for grants and up to 1,000 different businesses overall.

The meeting heard while the businesses who had received government grants were appreciative, many had indicated it would not be sufficient to cover their basic costs.

Mr Perkin said the council was not aware of many businesses that had formally announced their closure, but said “many are on the brink of closure”.

He said: “They are surviving, but there is a lot of talk about how the future might look for individual businesses. Our medium and longer term concern is how businesses will be able to trade coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic. What seems to be happening is businesses are downsizing massively. They are losing staff and moving away from their properties and adopting new models of working, at the moment predominantly working from home. talking to some firms about small-scale office spaces for the future. A lot of businesses don’t need the property they have got but they do need something.”

Labour councillor Stephen Harker replied that it made no sense that some businesses were finding themselves ineligible for grants.

He added: “At the end of the day it’s someone’s business and someone’s livelihood that’s being threatened as a consequence.”

After the meeting, Mr Gibson said Government grants distributed by the council did not represent the full range of support available to firms and 97 per cent of businesses had received some form of support, such as furlough and bounce back loans.

He said while some businesses had not been able to access Government grants, they had received other forms of support and in the worst case scenario were able to get Universal Credit.

He said: “There are thousands of businesses that have received lots of support. In any scheme of support there has to be cut-offs and when the Government is spending public money it needs to do so in a prudent way to make sure it is targeted, appropriate and not subject to fraud.”