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Small firms ‘kept waiting for weeks’ for restart grants

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will launch the Government’s plans for a beefed-up Covid-19 Restart Grant for small businesses today – a support that has been inaccessible since last month’s stimulus plan announcement.

In his prepared remarks on the expanded Restart Grant Plus, Mr Varadkar says applications are now open. His spokesperson said this means all 31 city and county councils nationwide that must process these applications will be expected to update their ­websites today to permit this.

While those local authorities have received applications from more than 40,000 rates-paying firms since the initial scheme went live in May, not one of their online pages yesterday was permitting such applications.

“Following the announcement on 23rd July 2020, the application form for the Business Restart Grant is temporarily unavailable,” Dublin City Council said. It pledged to resume taking applications “once the exact details of the changes have been confirmed and the necessary development work completed”.

“The restart grant is temporarily offline,” Laois County Council advised above step-by-step application instructions.

Cork City Council’s Restart Grants page said it would keep all answers blank on its FAQ section – including ‘How soon will I get my grant?’ – until “confirmation of details of the revised grant are received from Central Government”.

Anthony Casey, partner in financial advisory Noone Casey, says 90 of his retail, tech and entertainment clients have sought the grant under either new or old rules – but most haven’t received a cent.

“There have been no monies paid out, no grant approvals, for nearly three weeks – in a period when companies are suffering the most,” he said.

“I can’t for the life of me understand, in this time of crisis when SMEs are being battered, why you would announce something on the 23rd of July and then three weeks later still not have that process in place.”

While the initial May benefit was limited to firms employing fewer than 50 workers and with less than €5m annual turnover, the new scheme will raise those limits to 250 workers and €25m turnover.

The size of grants will rise from May’s €2,000-€10,000 range to a new range of €4,000-€25,000. This means successful claimants from the initial scheme can apply for significant top-ups, while many larger SMEs excluded under previous rules will gain access.

“Hairdressers, sports clubs, cafes, restaurants and several other businesses can use this money to help with the costs associated with reopening and adapting to what is a very different environment,” Mr Varadkar says in his statement.

However, one of the original scheme’s weaknesses – excluding businesses such as B&Bs that don’t pay rates – still appears subject to a vague timeline. While B&Bs are to become eligible for €4,000 grants, the announcement says Fáilte Ireland will begin taking these applications “over the coming weeks”.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: “What should have been a straightforward expansion has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.”

He said Mr Varadkar’s plans had produced “complete confusion and at least three postponed launch dates”.

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