Harrow Conservatives criticised the council’s approach to managing coronavirus support grants for businesses after figures showed less than half of eligible recipients in the borough have been paid.

The group’s leader, Cllr Paul Osborn, said the Labour-run administration should prioritise these payments rather than plead for more financial support from central government to deal with the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Government figures showed that, as of Monday (May 10), Harrow Council had spent just £21.2 million of the £42.2 million it was allocated for business support grants.

Furthermore, of the 2,800 small and medium sized businesses in the borough eligible for funding, just 1,248 had received payment.

These percentages were the lowest in London and among the lowest in England.

Harrow Conservatives said the comparatively low number of potential applicants meant the council should be able to cope and that the figures were particularly unimpressive when compared with neighbouring boroughs Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hillingdon.

Cllr Osborn said: “It is disappointing to see portfolio holders calling for more government money when they should be focused like a laser on getting the money to local businesses who so desperately need this money.

“Harrow is significantly slower than any other London borough – the second worst borough has paid 50 per cent more businesses.

“We need to take all the steps necessary to get this money to hard-pressed local businesses.”

The Government said it will provide one-off grants of £10,000 to small businesses eligible for rate reliefs while those in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector could benefit from up to £25,000.

Cllr Adam Swersky, responsible for finance and emergency response at Harrow Council, explained that the council has to carry out a series of checks to avoid fraud and ensure the correct people are paid.

He added Harrow has a higher percentage of microbusinesses and small to medium-sized firms than other boroughs and, since many do not have to pay business rates, the council does not have immediate access to payment details.

“I know it’s a worrying time for businesses and we are doing everything we can do ensure the right money goes to the right businesses as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We are running ‘virtual surgeries’ to help answer questions about the application, making contact with businesses who are yet to apply for a grant and will be in touch with businesses very soon where we need to ask for more details.

“We are doing everything we can to pay as many grants as we can as fast as we can.”