COUNCIL chiefs have been urged to ‘act now’ to distribute £3.9m of business grants after MPs claimed just 2.9 per cent of a government support package has reached struggling firms.

Bury Council received £4m last November through the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG), to aid virus-hit companies.

Bury North MP James Daly said only £96,000 had been distributed - so the council holds around £3.9m to still assist traders.

But council leader, Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, said the council had followed government funding guidance and had only been told to distribute the money more quickly on January 7.

The ARG was devised to provide local councils with funding to support closed businesses that do not directly pay business rates as well as firms that do not have to close but which are impacted. The scope of this scheme is completely discretionary.

Mr Daly said local businesses had complained already about the council declining applications, with some saying they had been told they ‘don’t qualify’.

He added: “This presents a unique opportunity for local knowledge and expertise to ensure as many businesses and individuals as possible are given support, we must act now.”

Mr Daly, and Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, have written to Cllr O’Brien requesting again that grants be made on a needs basis and priority be given to self-employed and sole traders working from home.

Cllr O’Brien said: “Accusations we have not helped local businesses are an absolute travesty of the truth.”

He said business support staff had aided firms across different sectors and the authority had handed out £51m, or 90 per cent plus, of support funds allocated.

Cllr O’Brien added: “As regards the £4m announced in November in ARG. The Government’s guidance...was this money was a one-off lump sum and had to be used to support businesses until March 2022.

“There would be no more money provided, so don’t spend it all at once, was the message. Last Thursday night we received new guidance – there would be more money, and it was expected to be spent without delay. To claim Bury has been tardy in helping people, therefore, is nonsense.”

Three new schemes had now been taken to business leaders for firms which had not yet received support, he said.