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Peterborough chef: Businesses could 'drop like flies' if Government doesn't offer promised support soon

Local chef criticises government on lack of implementation and poor management of support package promised to businesses during the crisis. Warns it could lead to a credit crisis.
Chef Damian Wawrzyniak from House of Feasts in Eye

Damian Wawrzyniak runs the House of Feasts restaurant in the village of Eye, near Peterborough. However, like many businesses, Damian says he is struggling to cope due to the coronavirus lockdown. 

Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Government’s new package, the 'coronavirus job retention scheme', to protect workers and their employers by helping to pay wages in an historic move by the government.  

The package promised that companies and organisations will be able to apply for a grant from HMRC that will help cover 80% of wages of people who are not working due to coronavirus shutdowns, but who haven’t been laid off. Mr Sunak also announced VAT relief for business until June to support companies struggling with a cash flow. 

While Damian hasn't let any of his staff go yet, he has been disappointed by a lack of support or guidance from either the council or the HMRC department. 

Speaking to Peterborough Matters, Damian said: “I have been trying to contact the HRMC and the council for business rate information, since last week. Had no luck at all even after being on the phone for almost four hours! 

“They kept sending me from one department to the other - all of them equally clueless. The council in fact told me not to ring again and they will have some information sent to me when they get it."  

Talking about the salaries for his staff Damian said, he is struggling and if no help that was promised, is offered soon, it could get worse for him and businesses like him. 

Damian added, “I have running costs of £20,000 a month. I haven't let my staff go yet, in the hope of the package promised by the chancellor. I have been inquiring about it but no one has accurate information. If I had more clarity, I could point my staff in the right direction-perhaps with benefits. 

"Some business owners are saying maybe this process could take a good few weeks - to maybe the end of May - and if that’s the case, then businesses will drop like flies!  

“I am very angry and would like some clear answers and information. I’ll believe the help offered by the government, when I see it myself. If this situation continues where people are struggling to make ends meet, there will soon be a credit crisis.” 

In the meantime, he has been baking sourdough at his restaurant which is available to take away, and leaving a basket for people to take home, who can't afford to buy food. 

Cambridgeshire County Council is leading the establishment of an ‘economic recovery sub-group’ that has been set up as part of a Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) looking at the impact of Covid-19.

Working with the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Combined Authority the County Council is driving forward the early set-up of this group to ensure businesses across Cambridgeshire are fully aware of the various financial support measures being made available by Government and that as many businesses as possible secure the support they are eligible to receive.

A sposkesman for Peterbrough City Council said: ""Businesses and residents who have been hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak will be supported by Peterborough City Council over the coming months.  

"Following the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s daily briefings over the past week, Peterborough City Council is doing all it can to alleviate the economic impact of Covid-19 on the city.  

The council is putting the following support measures in place: 

  • 12 month Business Rate Holiday - A 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in Peterborough has now been implemented from April 1 to 31, March 2021. This will also apply to non-local authority childcare providers. This will mean these businesses have £33 million less to pay – collectively - for the next financial year. Revised bills, with zero to pay, are due to be produced and sent this week.  

  • Small Business Grant Funding - All businesses in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief will receive a £10,000 grant fund to help ease the impact of Covid-19.   

  • Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Funding - All businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure business, which occupy property with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000 will be receive grant funding of £25,000. This will help to ease the impact of Covid-19 on their business.   

The grant funding above will be automatically paid following receipt of Government legislation allowing Peterborough City Council to do this. It will be done automatically, so business rate payers don’t need to do anything. In the meantime, bills and direct debits will be paused for businesses that fall into the above sectors. 

The council also shed light on council tax concerns that people have been raising.  

They said, “We are awaiting information from Central Government giving us details on how to make sure that city residents who need it the most, benefit from a slice of the £500 million national Hardship Funding set aside by Government.” 

“For those who are not currently in debt, the current advice is that assistance with council tax is provided by the council through the Council Tax Support Scheme. For further information, or to make a claim, please visit the website. 

“In addition, we would urge anyone who is struggling to pay their council tax to contact our teams at the earliest opportunity to discuss their options. We can consider offering a payment plan or placing a short-term hold on the account to allow for Universal Credit payments and Council Tax Support applications to be determined. We review each case individually. Our teams can be contacted on 01733 452258 or by email on” 

Councillor David Seaton, cabinet member for finances at Peterborough City Council, said: “We are working hard to implement all the government guidance relating to Covid-19 that has come out over the past week to ease its impact on residents and businesses in Peterborough.  

“We are pleased that we can now offer some relief to businesses, particularly those who have been hit hardest by the outbreak.  

“We are also making changes to help residents who already have council tax bills stacking up. There will be further help on the way for residents who will have trouble paying council tax bills in the coming months and we are awaiting clarification from the Government before we can implement this.  

“Although many people are being impacted financially by Covid-19 and the council is doing all it can to support these families, many others are not and in order for us to help those who have been most severely affected, we need to rely on these households continuing to make their payments on time.  

“Peterborough City Council is doing all it can to minimise the impact of Covid-19 on residents and businesses. We want our city to continue to thrive once the outbreak is over and will do everything in our power to ensure this. Our overwhelming message is that if you are struggling, do not do so in silence, come and tell us.”