A FORDINGBRIDGE pub landlord says the business has been left in a "ridiculous" situation after not getting a restart grant in time for its reopening this week.

Caroline Roylance, who runs The George on Bridge Street, said the pub has just £2.76 in the bank as it struggles to prepare to welcome customers back.

It is like starting again from scratch after more than five months completely shut, she says, with no money in the bank.

She emailed New Forest District Council on April 1 about the Government support grant, which is intended to help businesses reopen.

But she said she was told the form had not been put together yet and the grant would not be available before they reopened.

'I've got £2.76 in my account'

"Some businesses like us have been shut for five-and-a-half months and funds have long since run out.

"They [the Government] said it would be available from April 1 and obviously with hospitality and non-essential retail opening on April 12 that is perfect because you've got the money to open," Caroline said.

She says the form did not go live on the district council's website until April 6 and then an automatic response said eligible businesses entitled to the funding would be allocated it in ten working days.

The pub is due to reopen on Wednesday (April 14) and Caroline believes the grant will arrive at least a week after reopening.

"It is called a restart grant because it is to get your business started.

"I've got £2.76 in my account.

"Luckily all of our suppliers are being really understanding.

"I can't buy any napkins, or crockery or glasses to replace any we need," added Caroline.

"We are not going to have all the drinks we should have available and were not going to have everything available because we don't have the money to buy it.

"I won't have all the consumables I need."

'Why are they calling it a restart grant if it's not to help you restart?'

The Covid support money The George has received has gone towards paying suppliers and improving the outside area to make sure the business is "viable" when it opens again.

Caroline added: "We thought about not opening because we don't have the money but that is just even more difficult.

"We are just going to open with what we have.

"It is just a ridiculous situation, why are they calling it a restart grant if it's not to help you restart?

"We have been shut for five-and-a-half months.

"All our soft drinks are out of date and any dry store food is out of date.

"We are effectively having to start from scratch but with no money."

'Incredibly stressful' for every small business

Another factor adding to difficulties for the pub is that people will be paying via card transactions, which means the money won't come through until the following Monday.

"It is going to be another week until we've got any money," admits Caroline.

"It is just making it incredibly stressful.

"It's not just me, it must be every small business.

"I can't imagine anyone has got a couple of grand ready to reopen when we all thought we were getting a restart grant.

"Maybe I wouldn't have bothered building a pergola if I knew the restart grant wasn't going to come.

"We have been relying on that to reopen since we were told about it."

"It is on top of a year of absolute nightmares," added Caroline.

"When they announced that you were getting a restart grant and it was to be available from April 1 they should have made sure every council realised that the application form had to be live on April 1 so people could apply for it and get it before they opened."

What the council says

Alan Bethune, NFDC's chief financial officer, said: "The council must adhere to specific central Government guidance and the finalised conditions were only sent to the council on Wednesday, April 7.

"Our opening of the application form coincided with this timing and of course the receipt of funding, which was with us on April 6.

"The Government require the Council to carry out pre-payment checks on every application and we must also undertake an external data matching exercise and await a reply before any payment is made.

"We have allowed a period of 10 days from the date of application to carry out this process.

"We will of course strive to get payments out sooner than this where possible and funding will certainly be with the businesses impacted by the May re-opening date.

"As well as being required to set up a new application form and pre-payment process for this scheme at relatively short notice, the same officers of the council have also been involved in the payment of the varying other business support grants, including over £4m in support payments during March to businesses, including The George."

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