Business owners across County Durham have spoken of their relief at the quick processing of support grants by Durham County Council.

The grants were launched late last week to help businesses through the Coronavirus pandemic and council staff have since worked tirelessly to process payments.

To date, the council has already supported 3,575 businesses, paying more than £43 million and expects to exceed £50 million of payments by 5pm today.

The grants are either £10,000 or £25,000, depending on the size of the company, and do not need to be repaid.

They’re one-off payments designed to help small businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, many of which were the first to close or be affected by the Coronavirus outbreak.

A number of businesses have praised the council for the way it has worked with them to establish simple claims processes and over the speed in which the payments have been made.

Leanne Fawcett is Managing Director of LEC Communications and Design, and also sits on the Peterlee and Seaham Business Park Groups’ steering committee. She said: “I cannot praise Durham County Council enough – I applied for the Small Business grant to help the business through these very challenging times. Within two days the money has been paid into the bank. Hats off to them for acting so quickly to help small businesses like mine.”

Heather Harker-Smith, who runs the bridal boutique Alice Elizabeth in Coxhoe, said: “I applied for the grant last Friday morning and it was with me by the afternoon. I was thoroughly impressed. Up until then, there had been a promise of support but on Friday afternoon that promise became real and it’s made such a difference.

“I can now continue to pay my bills and staff wages as normal. I’m determined that my business will continue to thrive when this is over and this grant has provided that much-needed security in what has been such a worrying time. It has even helped me to sleep for the first time in a long time.”

There are more than 8,000 properties across the county eligible for the grants and it’s expected that the council will have paid out £89 million once all applications have been processed.

That is in addition to the business rates reliefs which have already been processed in the week. Revised bills have been issued, providing a further £44 million of reductions to business rates bills in order to support local businesses even more.

Eligible businesses who haven’t yet applied for the grants are being encouraged to as soon as possible to get the help they’re entitled to during these challenging times.

Angela Warner, who owns Isabella’s Coffee Shop in Shotley Bridge, said: “It was so easy to apply for the grant. I’ve already helped another business in the village to apply for theirs and I would encourage any other eligible business to apply.

“Without it, I would have had to lay off my staff. Two of those couldn’t afford to live without their wage and our bills would have also continued so it’s made such a difference to receive the grant so quickly. It’s helping us all to survive and it could allow others to do the same.”

Guidelines around which businesses are eligible for the grant have been set by the government. Details of this are available online at http://www.durham.gov.uk/ndrgrants

Cllr Carl Marshall, Portfolio holder for economic regeneration, said: “I’m delighted that we have been able to make a difference to so many businesses already. We know that these are difficult times and we know our local businesses need these support grants, which is why our staff are working tirelessly to prioritise making payments to them.

“I would ask any eligible business who hasn’t yet applied to please do so. We are committed to supporting all our businesses through this pandemic and these grants will go a long way in doing that. Companies can submit their details online and we will process their payment as quickly as possible.

“I have to again say thanks to our staff for all their hard work. They have been incredibly committed to supporting our local businesses in what are very difficult circumstances for themselves. We expect to have paid more than £50 million by the end of today, which is more than half of our estimated total – all within a week of receiving the government guidance on who was eligible for the payments. That is a tremendous achievement and highlights the dedication of our fantastic team who themselves are having to work flexibly from home as they follow the government advice on social distancing – they have been fantastic.”