Councillors have been urged to back a £2 million support package to help north-east businesses through the coronavirus pandemic.
Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee will meet next week to discuss the proposals, which would see funding drawn from several sources passed to firms to mitigate the impact of the crisis.
The measures, which are expected to be waved through, are aimed at ensuring firms and town centres across the north-east can survive lockdown and get moving again once restrictions are eased.
Among the support which would be included is the recruitment of additional staff for the Aberdeenshire Jobs programme, while the Business Gateway project’s services would also be expanded.
And town centres across the region would be offered grants to kick-start the local economy.
Committee chairman Peter Argyle said: “The council’s pots are not unlimited, and we do not have an endless supply of funding, but what we can do is bring together all the funds in a way that will bring maximum benefits to businesses across the north-east.
“Businesses are facing huge challenges at the moment and they are going to need a great deal of help in the months to come.
“It is completely unparalleled because we have never faced a situation like this before, and while this paper deals with what the council can do with its resources on a local level, there is also a lot of work being done looking at what we do on a regional basis.
“Nothing is clear at the moment and nobody really knows what the future holds but the council’s staff have responded extremely well to the crisis.
“The work that is being done and the commitment that is being shown is fantastic and I have no doubt we will come through this.”
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Under the proposals, an additional £600,000 of European Regional Development Dunds (ERDF) would be drawn down to expand the Business Gateway programme, on top of the £800,000 core annual cost of the project.
A new grant fund – the Aberdeenshire Town Centre Phoenix Fund – would be created, with £10,000 available to each of the 13 town centres designated as key by the council, such as Stonehaven, Inverurie and Peterhead.
Further grants of £5,000 would be given to nine smaller town centres, including Alford, Newtonhill and Oldmeldrum.
Town Centre Retail Support, of up to £500 per business, would be offered to help them implement the recommendations of consultants.
A £157,500 Business Resilience and Sustainability Fund has been created to enable businesses to diversify, meet net zero targets and improve digital skills.
And two additional employability keyworker posts could be created to meet an anticipated increase in demand for employment support.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “We recognise that local authorities are trying hard to support regional businesses and we broadly welcome any measures which seek to increase this.
“Cash is still king in the short term with data from the latest British Chambers of Commerce Coronavirus Impact Tracker highlighting little in reserve for many businesses.
“In fact, the poll shows that around 54% of firms have three months cash in reserve or less so while many companies are looking further into the future, gaining access to funding is still a priority for the majority at this time.”
The funding was welcomed by business leaders across Aberdeenshire.
Derek Ritchie, manager of We Are Inverurie, the town’s Business Improvement District, said: “Any extra money for town centres is very welcome, along with all the various measures such as the furlough scheme and support grants.
“It is really going to be needed – even more so now that we are going to be in at least partial lockdown for a little longer.”
Leslie Forsyth, manager of Rediscover Peterhead, added: “Nobody really knows what we are about to go into but it is clear we are not talking about a ‘big bang’ of businesses reopening.
“It is going to be a very challenging period so any help we can get for businesses is really important.”