A West Lothian businesswoman woman has hit out after being refused a lifeline grant, despite them being handed out “like sweeties”.
Carol Murdoch runs children’s education company Love Outdoor Learning, which has not been able to properly deliver sessions since last February.
And while she was awarded a grant to help keep her business afloat in the early days of the pandemic, she has been fighting to receive additional cash from the Business Support Grant.
The fund is administered by local authorities and Carol says she has been turned down twice now by West Lothian Council.
Carol said: “Although you are not allowed to go into people’s homes to work with them, unless you are their child’s only education provider which is very rare, you cannot run sessions as normal.
“However, the main part of our business is as a children’s activity provider. I have explained this to the council. We cannot go into schools and work and nor can we run our usual family sessions, but they refused to acknowledge this, despite the second application stating children’s activities provider and this being what we are registered as doing with Companies House.
“Last year we helped around a quarter of a million children, this year already we are at 200,000.
“I have managed not to furlough my staff, at times this year paying them straight out of my own pocket. I cannot understand how we are not entitled to any help.”
Love Outdoor Learning’s small team of three has over 30 years’ experience working within education and a wealth of training and knowledge developed within the outdoor environment.
They work with both families and in educational settings, including schools, clubs or with other activity providers offering sessions for children of all ages.
Carol appealed to the council to rethink overturn its decision to ensure her company can continue to offer these unique experiences to children.
She continued: “We are managing to keep going with some online tuition which means I am taking a very small wage and most of it is going towards my staff team and keeping them paid.
“We can keep going like this but it is really difficult and is limiting how much support we can provide to families.
“We haven’t run any outdoor or schools sessions since February last year. This is due to a couple of factors, demand and keeping the team safe.
“My team lead was pregnant, one of my support staff lives out in Midlothian and there were so many restrictions on travel and then there is me, who is a carer.
“I think being fearful of the future is the norm now. That’s almost a year of being worried about it. I long for the days where I do not feel that way.
“It just seems crazy the council were handing the initial 10,000 grants out like sweeties. We got that, it got us through the year until now, but now with much smaller grants they are putting up unnecessary obstacles and ignoring the businesses it could really help and not listening at all.”
A spokesperson for West Lothian Council said A West Lothian Council spokesperson said the Scottish Government sets the criteria for the fund and the council is required to assess eligibility in accordance with the criteria.
He continued: “The council is acutely aware of the pressures on businesses and will award support whenever this is possible.
“It would not be appropriate to discuss the specific details of any individual application.
“The Business Support Grant scheme that was available during the initial lock down in March 2020 was a totally separate grant scheme to the one that is currently available. As the two grant funds are wholly separate, each with their own distinct eligibility criteria, this means that businesses who received a grant payment in March 2020 under the Small Business Grant Fund may not be eligible for a grant payment under the Strategic Framework Business Fund.
“In March 2020 the eligibility criteria for businesses under the Small Business Grant Fund included that they should be in receipt of a Small Business Bonus relief for their Business Rates.
“With regards to the current Strategic Framework Business Fund, businesses are eligible for a grant payment under level 4 restrictions if they are closed or have to modify their operations as set out in law under Schedule 5 part 1 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.
“Further guidance and support for businesses is available via the ‘support for businesses’ section of the West Lothian Council website.”