Advice service for struggling businesses
Josie Hinton STRUGGLING businesses will get free one-to-one advice under a new council scheme launched this week to help companies through the recession. Finance bosses have allocated �100,000 for the scheme, which aims to help more than 100 small busines
STRUGGLING businesses will get free one-to-one advice under a new council scheme launched this week to help companies through the recession.
Finance bosses have allocated �100,000 for the scheme, which aims to help more than 100 small businesses stay afloat in the economic downturn.
Business experts from the Portobello Business Centre (PBC) will offer advice on budgeting, invoice discounting and non-traditional sources of finance. They will also help small businesses locate affordable premises.
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But the scheme has provoked a mixed reaction, with some traders branding the move a "waste of money."
"Surely the money could be better spent helping small businesses with their rents by freezing prices rather than putting them up," said a Church Street trader, who asked not to be named.
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"The advice service is going to be no good for traders who go out of business because they can't afford their rent."
Church Street councillor Barbara Grahame agreed the council should be concentrating on its own business tenants.
"They are putting �100,000 into the advisory service which can be used by any private business, yet they are not putting any money into a rent freeze for their own tenants," she said.
But finance boss Cllr Melvyn Caplan said that while the rent review had come at a difficult time for businesses, a rent freeze was out of the question.
"We cannot escape the fact that there has been no increase at all over the last five years - when businesses were benefiting from the boom," he said.
"Any rent freeze would have kept rental payments coming into the council below the market level and would directly affect the amount of money we can allocate to council housing as these business rents are reinvested into that ring fenced account.
"To best assist traders with the planned increase we will introduce flexible payment plans and assist tenants with cash flow by agreeing to monthly, as opposed to the current system of quarterly, payment of rent."
Each small business in Westminster will receive information in March, outlining a range of business support services open to them through the advisory service.
They will be encouraged to contact the PBM to arrange a meeting with an adviser who will draw up an action plan for each company. The adviser will then provide follow-up support while the action plan is implemented.
The scheme is part of the council's City Recovery Plan which will see �100,000 spent on economic development in the next year.
Cllr Brian Connell, cabinet member for communities and economic development, said: "We know flourishing trade is vital to the success of any city and we value the contribution these companies make so we want to do all we can to offer expert advice and guidance to help them survive the recession.