Events firm refused Covid-19 help, despite rules banning public gatherings
- Credit: www.martin-james.co.uk
A Hornchurch businessman says he fears the “flawed” distribution of coronavirus grants could end in tragedy.
Wesley Mendy’s company, which organises large events, has been unable to operate for almost a year due to Covid-19.
But it has been told it is not eligible for a grant because it can still access its offices – even though once there, staff cannot organise any events.
Mr Mendy claimed Havering Council encouraged him to apply for two sets of grant funding, then rejected both applications.
He said: “It’s a flawed system. They are dealing with people’s lives and businesses. At the moment, people are just trying to keep a roof over their heads. I fear that one day someone will be tipped over the edge.
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“This is now causing me sleepless nights and causing my physical health to deteriorate.”
Mr Mendy began running Prestige Events Magazine – a hospitality industry publication – in Havering in 2004.
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In 2009, it started hosting trade fairs, networking events and awards ceremonies. Since then, it has worked with ITV, Channel 4, American Express and the Teenage Cancer Trust.
But since early 2020, Mr Mendy's team has been in limbo, with large events blocked by social distancing rules, tiered restrictions and lockdowns.
"There’s no income stream for the magazine either because every venue has battened down the hatches,” he said. “They’ve locked down their budgets because there’s no revenue. I think we’ve had two clients that have paid for advertising since this started. Usually, it would be hundreds.”
Meanwhile, Prestige has to cover overheads like the rent on its office in Eastern Road, Romford.
Last summer Mr Mendy received a £10,000 business rates grant from Havering Council.
In the autumn, he received an invitation to apply for another.
It said: “Businesses in the events and catering industry that were previously awarded a £10,000 grant under phase two of the former discretionary grant scheme, and are still operating, will be awarded a further grant of up to £10,000.”
But the new grant never came.
After numerous phone calls and emails, Mr Mendy said he was “shocked” to discover that his account had been deleted from the council’s computer system and it instead had a different company listed at his address.
He has shown the Recorder an email from the council, referring to the other company.
Mr Mendy said he was also encouraged by council officers to apply for a Local Restrictions Support Grant. But on January 25, the council rejected his application.
A civil servant said Prestige was not eligible because "the office can still be used for administration purposes... and the business has not been ordered not to use the premises”.
They added: “I have every sympathy with businesses affected in this manner but we are legally obliged to follow the guidelines issued by central government.”
The Recorder asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) whether Havering was applying the rules correctly.
The department said it would not comment on individual cases or councils. It sent us information on Local Restrictions Support Grants but said it was at councils’ discretion who received them.
The information from BEIS showed there were two types of Local Restrictions Support Grant – one for businesses forced to close and another for businesses not forced to close but still “severely affected by restrictions”.
Havering Council’s website had a single application form for Local Restrictions Support Grants, which said applicants would be "assessed on all available schemes”.
Mr Mendy said the council had only ever liaised with him about the grant for closed businesses and had never mentioned any alternative.
Council leader Damian White claimed Prestige Events was not eligible for either grant, adding: “The eligibility criteria are set by the government and not the council.”
He continued: “We are aware of a number of events and catering industry businesses in the borough that may also fall into this unfortunate gap – suffering significant impact due to the closure of businesses in the supply chain, even though they are not required to close themselves.
“We are currently working on the next round of business support funding, which will hopefully include such businesses that have fallen through the cracks.”