Senior officers at Harrow Council defended their approach to processing coronavirus business support grants following criticism around the speed of payouts.

For several weeks, Harrow was among the ‘worst performing’ local authorities in England when it came to the percentage of payments handed out to businesses eligible for grants to help tackle the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was raised by the borough’s Conservative Group who said the council should be taking “all the steps necessary to get this money to hard-pressed local businesses”.

It added the figures were particularly unimpressive when compared with neighbouring boroughs Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hillingdon

But Sean Harriss, chief executive of Harrow Council, said these stats were skewed and that around 2,000 businesses were eligible for support as opposed to the figure closer to 3,000 that was previously published.

This, he explained, meant around £31 million worth of grants would be paid out rather than £42 million initially allocated.

Mr Harriss said the council had now completed 92 per cent of applications and it is approaching “the very end of the process”.

He added there was a “clear desire” to support businesses in the borough, highlighted by the fact that “more officer time was spent on this than almost anything else”.

Cllr Adam Swersky, responsible for finance and emergency response at Harrow Council, said specific situations in Harrow – such the high number of microbusinesses in the borough – meant delays were likely.

He added that the council took a deliberate approach to the payments to prevent fraud and ensure the right people were receiving the correct amount.

“We decided to provide a high level of scrutiny – though not more than was necessary – whereas other [councils] chose to pay out quickly and hope they could claim it back if they had done so incorrectly,” he said.

“I think we would have received a lot more negative publicity if we had to try and claim back millions of pounds and could end up costing the Harrow taxpayer.”

And Charlie Stewart, director of resources at Harrow Council, said he was confident the council would pass the upcoming audit on the business grants process as it “followed government guidance”.