Reading Borough Council's support for business through COVID-19

Peter Sloman, Chief Executive of Reading Borough Council, lays out the Council's support for the Reading economy

Peter SlomanAt Reading Borough Council’s Policy Committee on 23 March, the Council recalibrated its priorities in the face of the challenge of tackling the spread and impact of the Covid-19 virus. We are clear what we need to do to play our part in leading the response in Reading, and that includes supporting businesses and the local economy as one of the Council’s three key priorities, alongside supporting the most vulnerable and isolated in our community and ensuring the social care system continues to function effectively.

With our business partners, Reading UK and the Business Improvement Districts, we are working hard to mitigate the effects of the crisis, as well as starting to develop plans for the long-term recovery of the town, its residents, communities, businesses and economy. Our response is underpinned by the key principles of partnership working, prioritising the most critical services, safeguarding the resilience and well-being of our staff, being adaptable in how we work and communicating regularly to all our key stakeholder groups.

Understandably, our priority for business has been to ensure that the business rates relief and grants to businesses, as announced by national Government, have been distributed quickly and efficiently. I have been delighted by the response of Reading Borough Council staff who have worked speedily to ensure 1,200 business properties in Reading were contacted to confirm 100% business rates relief discount for 2020/21 very quickly, saving them approximately £44m. All those businesses have received revised bills.

As I write, we have paid over £17 million of the small business grants available to eligible Reading businesses, 70% of the total £24,730,000, meaning 1275 Reading businesses have already received this vital financial support into their bank accounts.  We are among the top 15% of local authorities in the UK for speed of distributing these payments but we want to ensure we get these urgent payments to all businesses who qualify.  We have written to those businesses we believe are eligible and are working with Reading UK, who manage the two Business Improvement Districts, to identify alternative contacts for businesses who haven’t yet applied, so please do apply or get in touch if you are one of these.

We have also built up a comprehensive online resource providing advice and guidance for Reading businesses, employees and the self-employed to ensure they can access the information they need to make the right decisions for them, their staff and businesses. If you are self-employed, you may be entitled to income support; if you have lost your job, you can claim Universal Credit; if you are making big decisions about the future of your business, talk to the Berkshire Growth Hub to get free one—to-one advice.

The next steps are about ensuring the support is in place to enable the quickest possible economic bounce back, once the situation allows. We are lobbying Government for rapid implementation of Covid-19 budget decisions that support businesses, workers and the economy, and with our partners planning for the recovery. The good news is that the Reading economy has shown amazing resilience in the face of economic challenges in the recent past, and while this situation is of a potentially different magnitude, with the way we run our businesses and our lives potentially changing forever, I am confident that if we work together Reading will bounce back strongly. The Centre for Cities think tank this week identified Reading as having the resilience to be among the top six quickest recovering economies post COVID-19. Reading Borough Council will be there, with our partners, to do everything we can to make that happen as quickly as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, stay safe and do let us know what we can do to support your staff and business.

Peter Sloman

Chief Executive Officer, Reading Borough Council

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