April 15 coronavirus update for businesses

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Blackpool Council pays out £26m

Blackpool Council has paid out £26m in business support grants so far, which has been distributed between 2,300 local companies.

The payments have been made to businesses eligible for assistance as part of the Small Business Grants Fund and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. The council received more than £59m from the government.

Blackpool Council’s Leader, Cllr Simon Blackburn, said: "Since the funding package was announced, the council’s business support teams have been working incredibly hard to assist business owners in both understanding and getting access to the support they require during this difficult time.

 "I would like to assure business owners that we are working as fast as we can to pay the grants into bank accounts quickly whilst at the same time checking for potentially fraudulent applications. We cannot unfortunately acknowledge receipt of applications but, once authorised, the grant will normally be paid within two to three working days."

Security firm launches intelligence service for retailers

Preston-based Business Insight 3 (Bi3) has launched a new intelligence division aimed at helping retailers handle the coronavirus pandemic.

The firm will now apply its existing technology and software to new uses, including people counting and crowd density calculation, intrusion detection on vacant premises, and monitoring loitering and tailgating.

These systems, available to rent on a month-by-month basis, will help customers navigate trading while social distancing advice remains in place.

Glen Higson, managing director, said: "Creating this separate division is something we’d been thinking about for a while and given the current situation facing retailers and other places such as leisure attractions and arts venues it seemed like the ideal time to provide this dedicated focus and support.

"Our aim is to be part of the solution for companies who want to do what they can to ensure people and property are kept safe during the pandemic. We’re already really well known for our security technology – I hope the same will soon be said for our business intelligence division.”

Harrison Drury warns employers against misusing government aid

John Chesworth, executive chairman at Harrison Drury solicitors, has warned businesses flouting the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CRJS) may face investigation, prosecution or even jail.

The scheme entitles businesses to ‘furlough’ employees from March onwards and claim up to 80 per cent of their wages subject to a cap of £2,500 per month per employee.

John said: “Despite it being clearly stipulated in the scheme guidelines that furloughed employees must not work during the furlough period, there are increasing anecdotal reports of businesses furloughing staff, who then carry on working for the business.

"The government’s colossal financial intervention in the economy is a lifeline for businesses and employees alike, and throughout many sectors of our economy. Claiming government assistance for workers who continue to provide services to a business while on furlough is in clear breach of CJRS rules."

Business directors and officers risk prosecution, heavy fines and even criminal conviction for declarations made when applying to the scheme if they are proven to be incorrect and/or misleading. If a decision is taken to prosecute a company which is an owner-managed SME, it is possible that proceedings against a director or other officer of the company will also take place. It is anticipated that in due time, HMRC will undertake wide-ranging and extensive investigations into businesses who have claimed under the scheme and have received significant amounts of money from it.

Hyndburn business awards postponed

The organisers of the Hyndburn Business Awards 2020 have postponed the ceremony until September 15. This also gives organisations extra time to submit nominations. The deadline for entries is now midnight of July 21, with finalists announced on August 11.

Bespoke completes project in lockdown

Preston-based digital agency Bespoke is to complete a new website project for London-based ten80 Group. Bespoke had already pre-empted official government direction on working from home in March when the project was signed off. The project was delivered exclusively by client and agency teams working from home and communicating via Zoom.

Bespoke CEO Steve Brennan said: "Some aspects of our business have had to stop, such as our face-to-face events and Digital Accelerator programme. But it is actually possible to accelerate rebrand, website and retainer projects by running them remotely and ten80 are the first to benefit from that."

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