Bradford Council has proved invaluable to businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. It has administered the payout more than £200m in centrally-funded business grants, and its staff have worked tirelessly to provide support for local firms, particularly small firms, in the district.As the whole country moves towards recovery, those services are set to remain in place, offering vital advice and guidance.
Damian Holmes for Bradford Means Business takes a look at the work that has been done and the help it has provided.
The coronavirus pandemic has been unchartered waters for everyone, and businesses have had to constantly change and redefine the way they operate and trade.
That has been difficult enough for the bigger global companies, but for small businesses with just one or two or a handful of staff, it has been a terrifying journey into the unknown. The impact of the lockdowns and social distancing, the move towards working from home, the greater emphasis on online trading, have all presented huge challenges to small firms. And in many cases, it is one person who has had to take the weight of the changes and decisions on their shoulders, along with the responsibility for keeping the company going.
This was one of the areas Bradford Council recognised needed support, and it has set up a free initiative designed to help these businesses manage the challenges. The Bradford District Microbusiness Support scheme offers bespoke advice and support through telephone one-to-ones with experts from a local consultancy, Insight with Passion. So far, more than 200 small businesses have been helped by the scheme across the district.
Their work has included helping to enhance their online marketing, social media, customer service, and staff wellbeing, and since November 2020, 80 bespoke one-to-one sessions have been delivered free to local firms. Business specialists have run seven online workshops covering topics such as small business finances, business resilience, customer service, branding and collaboration. A dedicated website contains useful information, tips and resources on government support, finance, marketing and human resources, along with details of other sources of business support.
Bookings for one-to-one calls are available seven days a week, including evenings and weekends to ensure as many businesses as possible can access the support.
Advisors are available with business advice and solutions, in addition to supporting the wellbeing of small business owners and providing moral support. Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said businesses had found the service invaluable.
“We are very pleased so many businesses have come forward and made use of this free support which has been designed to help local small firms survive and thrive during what can only be described as incredibly difficult trading conditions,” he said.
“The service has helped local firms to adapt to changing consumer patterns, enhance their digital and online skills, and fine-tune their customer service.
“We hope that this will provide them with a strong platform and grow as we move through the road map out of lockdown and into the future.”
He said the Microbusiness Support Scheme was one strand of the incredible job that had been done by the team at Bradford Council.
“We have done everything we can to support local businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Coun Ross-Shaw.
“Our staff have worked incredibly hard working around the clock to set up, process, check and pay business grants as quickly as possible. I’m incredibly thankful for all their efforts during this unprecedented time.
“We will continue to support our business community to ensure our local economy recovers as strongly to protect local jobs and investment.”
Those are sentiments that are supported by local businesses which have benefitted from the Microbusiness Support Scheme. SimFit, based in Lister Park, was founded by ex-armed forces member Kingsley Simmons, and offered bootcamp sessions and six-week transformational camps for people in the district.
The company was hit hard when lockdown started, and Kingsley had to restructure, creating online Zoom classes, and What’s App groups to stay in touch with his clients. He was helped by a one-to-one session with Microbusiness Support, saying: “As a small business owner, I often struggle to find the time to dedicate to growing my business, the one-to-one session helped me focus on the next steps and gave me some tangible ways to move forward.”
Beauty business Beauty in Bloom in Silsden also benefited from the support over the months.
Owner Charlotte Hawkins said: “Like many businesses, I was unable to open for much of the last year.
“I’ve had a number of one-to-one telephone sessions and attended the workshops too, the advice and guidance has really given me the confidence to move things forward and I don’t think I’d be feeling like this without the support.”
Microbusiness Support was funded and commissioned by Bradford Council and is run by Insight with Passion, the business transformation experts. They work across the UK and internationally, supporting clients in retail, manufacturing, hospitality and travel, with leading consumer insight and strategic advice.
The scheme has now been extended to run until January next year.
Councillor Ross-Shaw said: “We are very pleased to extend this valuable service which so many local firms have already benefited from. Things are clearly improving but significant challenges remain so the Bradford District Microbusiness Support scheme will now run into early 2022. This will provide local firms with a strong platform to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the local economic recovery.”
To request one-to-one support or for more information, visit www.mybusinessbradford.info or call 07909 171771.
Bradford Council has also now paid out over £219.5m with a total of 43,678 grants to local businesses. Like every local authority, it was tasked with the huge undertaking of paying out the millions upon millions of pounds the Government quickly agreed to provide to support businesses around the country. And for the business rates team at Bradford Council, that was a task that fell onto their shoulders.
They were faced with a huge operation to try and ensure the money reached as many businesses as possible, as quickly as possible. The team has been working intensively, through long days and weekends and bank holidays, to pay coronavirus business grants since the start of the crisis to help ensure support grants are paid to local firms. And that has been recognised by businesses who have been pleased with the swift response and the ease of the process.
Jason Longhurst, Interim Strategic Director, for Bradford Council’s Department of Place, said: “We are doing everything we can to support Bradford district businesses through what we hope is the final stages of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Staff have worked extremely hard to set up, process and pay Covid business grants which have been a vital lifeline for many.”
Although the grant schemes are now closed to new applications as restrictions gradually ease, help is still available to business through the Microbusiness Support Scheme or by visiting www.bradford.gov.uk/business to find out more.