Dorset businesses have received £250million in government support during pandemic

moneyDORSET businesses have received about £250million in government help during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money, in grants and business rate relief, has been administered by finance teams at Dorset Council.

Executive director for corporate development, Aidan Dunn, told a recent meeting that the high levels of payments had only been achieved by transferring some of the council’s staff from their routine work to help with the grant payments and benefit reliefs.

He said, for some, it had meant doing almost the reverse of what they normally do – paying out cash, rather than collecting it in.

The payments have included £170million in business grants and £55million in business rate relief. A further £32million is due to be paid out in the coming days in business re-start grants.

Dorset Council has been judged to be one of the best performing councils in the country in how it has dealt with the operation.

However, the Audit and Governance Committee meeting heard that one of the knock-on effects of moving staff around was that some other work had slipped.

This included internal audit work where two members of an already small team had been seconded out of the department, although they were expected to transfer back again in the coming weeks.

The committee was told that, although some of the audit work had slipped, there was a confidence that it would soon be brought up to date. Remaining staff had concentrated on priority areas for audit in the past year.

Councillors were told that new software was continuing to help cut down on duplicate payments made, in error, by the council. These had amounted to around 0.05% of all payments but most of this had now been recovered.

The meeting heard that only about £2,670 remains outstanding, but £2,500 of that would now be written off as unrecoverable as the company involved was no longer in business, or untraceable.

In most cases unintentional overpayments are with businesses the council has regular dealings with and are quickly and easily recoverable.

The new system is said to now be able to identify potential duplicate payments, before they are made, rather than the previous system which only spotted them after payment.

In the month of March alone, Dorset Council staff handled 32,000 payments, including business grants, between them amounting to £18million.

By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins

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