Highland Council ramp up team responsible for processing business grants

The Highland Council is ramping up the team responsible for processing small business grants to respond even more quickly and to as many applicants as possible.

On Friday almost 4,000 applications had been received by Highland Council and 1000 of those have already been processed, to the value of over £12.8million.

The team had previously been scaled up to over 40 people, but since Friday officials have further increased capacity with a further 15 members of staff being trained today.

When the new staff are up to speed the Council is hoping to process 350 applications a day with a total grant value of approximately £4million per day.

Head of Development and Regeneration at Highland Council, Allan Maguire said: “An additional 15 team members have volunteered to help clear the backlog of applications we have received.

“Training is being provided and the staff involved have been granted essential worker status to work from Council HQ so that stable network access is guaranteed.

“All necessary health and safety and social distancing guidelines will be in place. Given the number of applications this will allow further significant progress to be made over the coming week.”

An appeals process will be put in place today to address concerns from businesses that have had their applications turned down. Highland Council appreciates these are distressing times for businesses, however, it is important the local authority undertakes the due diligence necessary.

Mr Maguire added: “All the above measures will lead to an acceleration and we are also continually reviewing the processes to ensure they are as lean as possible.”

Highland Council’s ICT team has been working tirelessly to improve connectivity for as many members of staff as possible. After some initial issues with connectivity for staff working from home, the network was rapidly expanded to over 8 times the previous capacity.

Mr Maguire added: “We cannot thank the dedicated team, including economy and finance staff, other volunteers and IT staff enough for the amount of work they have been doing in the background to ensure as many of business grants are processed and paid as quickly as possible.”

Reflecting the financial crisis generated by COVID-19, it is not surprising that within days of the grant scheme being launched on 24 March thousands of applications were received. This then increased again when the Scottish Government opened the scheme to self-catering businesses, creating a significant backlog of applications.

The applications are being processed in date order received and hence, it is regretful but inevitable, that not all the applications will be processed within the 10 working days target.

In response to businesses wanting to know when their application for grant will be processes, over the coming week the Council will be focusing on dealing with the backlog and ensuring that all applications received are complete with the evidence required. We will then be getting back in touch and letting business know that their application has been received and is being processed.

Details on the Small Business Grant and application forms can be found by visiting https://www.highland.gov.uk/coronavirus/businessgrant

For further information, latest coronavirus developments and changes to key Council services visit www.highland.gov.uk/coronavirus

20 Apr 2020