A GOVERNMENT concession allowing B&Bs in the area to apply for business support grants has been welcomed by MPs and the county's tourism sector.

The Government announced today that it will alter the criteria so as to enable small businesses who are eligible for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to qualify for business support grants.

It became clear a number of weeks ago that the Small Business Grant Fund, which calculates eligibility based on business rates payments, failed to cover smaller businesses paying Council Tax.

The announcement of the 'lifeline' Local Authority Discretionary Fund earlier this month was welcomed by MPs and small businesses in south Cumbria.

However, many businesses’ hopes were short-lived when the published guidance then appeared to exclude anyone eligible for the SEISS.

Lakes B&Bs, along with other small businesses in Cumbria's tourism and hospitality sectors, have been impacted further by reports of high Covid-19 incidence rates in South Lakeland and other parts of the county.

Today’s updated guidance, which removes the SEISS from the eligibility criteria, means B&Bs and similar businesses in the area will now be able to access the Government support grants.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, described the decision as a 'campaign win' following weeks of lobbying lawmakers to provide a comprehensive support package to one of the country's most hard-hit sectors as a result of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

Commenting on the news, Mr Farron said: “This is a big win for our campaign to get support to many small businesses who have been falling through the cracks.

“We’ve been banging the drum for small businesses that pay council tax, whether that be small B&Bs or businesses that operate in shared shares, to be given the financial support they need to survive this crisis.

“I want to say a massive thank you to Cumbria Tourism and South Lakeland District Council who we’ve been working with closely to lobby the Government on this, and to all the small businesses who have been in touch with their story which has helped us build our case.”

Tourism bodies in the county also welcomed today's announcement. 

Responding to today’s news, Cumbria Tourism’s Managing Director, Gill Haigh, said: “Since the lockdown began we have dealt with hundreds of enquiries from businesses who have seen their livelihoods disappear overnight.

"Whilst the Chancellor has brought forward a welcome wide range of support, we have been deeply distressed by the plight of many of our members who have found themselves outside the schemes through no fault of their own.

"This is particularly the case for our Bed and Breakfasts, who had previously been advised to pay Council Tax rather than Business Rates.

"Many were dealt a double blow when the initial Discretionary Fund once again appeared to cut them off from support. Over the last few weeks we have been working nonstop to support them by gathering case studies, working with Government, using our influence with our MPs and partners and raising the issue across national, regional and local media.

“I can only imagine the weight that has been lifted from so many businesses today, allowing them to look ahead to reopening rather than the prospect of having to cover overheads despite no income since March.

"We await further details but on the face of it this additional funding appears to be the answer we have been fighting for. We are grateful for all the support Cumbria Tourism has had and to the Government for listening.”

Further details of the changes in guidance announced today will be provided to local authorities in the coming days.