Wigan bars owner's anger at grants scheme

Michael Pagett, who owns three bars in Wigan, said he is yet to benefit from The Restart Grant scheme

Friday, 16th April 2021, 7:00 am

The owner of three bars in Wigan has accused the council of showing “disregard “ towards businesses over a Covid-19 grants scheme.

Michael Pagett, who owns Reef Bar and Terrace, The Wiend Bar and Partyhaus Sports Arcade with Morty’s Sports Bar and Kitchen, said he is yet to benefit from The Restart Grant scheme.

The initiative supports businesses in reopening safely as lockdown restrictions are eased. Grants have been available from April 1.

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Wigan bar owner Michael Pagett

Despite this, Mr Pagett said Wigan Council’s application process is not open yet as they are “awaiting government guidance”.

He also said that other boroughs are now making the payments and have been taking applications for some time, citing St Helens and Bolton as two nearby examples.

Mr Pagett said he is now starting a formal complaints process against the council to expose what he described as its “supposed negligence and disregard” towards local businesses.

In a statement which he sent to the Wigan Post, he said it was “unacceptable” that the council are happy for businesses in retail and hospitality to open without having received the restart grant.

He said: “I am struggling to make sense of how you expect this to be possible and why you’re making it so hard on businesses to prosper in Wigan.

“The council has a big focus at the minute on The Galleries, on empty retail units and on improving retail and hospitality which is clearly demonstrated by the plans submitted by the council for The Galleries and the King Street Masterplan.

“I would expect that the first step in helping the town centre prosper is to issue the government grants to businesses so they can trade without failure.

He added: “Whilst I am lucky enough to be relatively financially stable despite such a hard year of restrictions, as we’ve been innovative in finding ways to keep cash flow ticking over in ways such as delivering food and cocktails, which has also enabled us to bring some staff off furlough early, unfortunately many of my friends aren’t in the same position and the council should be doing all it can to help businesses at this time instead of erecting barriers to hinder us.”

But Becca Heron, director of economy and skills at the council said the scheme was subject to mandatory pre-payment checks on a particular system, which was only made available to local authorities from April 12.

She said the council were awaiting further information around the criteria for these checks to ensure the awards are made in line with government guidance.

Funds will then be distributed “as soon as possible”, she said.

She said: “The government Restart Grant scheme officially launched on April 1, however, it is subject to mandatory pre-payment checks on a particular system, which is only being made available to local authorities from April 12.

“We are also awaiting further information around the criteria for these checks to ensure the awards are made in line with government guidance.

“Despite this, teams have been working hard to prepare and ensure we are in the best position to process the grants as soon as we are able.

“We completely appreciate that many borough-businesses are waiting on these funds to help them now the restrictions have started to ease and we’d like to reassure business owners that once we have all of the necessary information and the tools to complete the relevant checks, payment can be made very quickly.

“Wherever possible, we will use records of previous grant awards to make automated payments, meaning the business will not need to make another full application. Where we require further information from the business we will contact them direct by email.

“Throughout the pandemic, Wigan Council has worked hard to distribute all grant funding as quickly as possible.

“Our targeted approach to supporting residents has been commended on a national and regional scale with Poverty Action groups sharing our approach with others.

“Our commitment to supporting the local economy through this time is stronger than ever and we will continue to distribute funds as soon as possible in order to ease pressures for those who need it most.”

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