Wokingham Borough Council has been named as a finalist for an award which recognises the support it has offered to small businesses during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.
Following the devastating economic impact of the pandemic, the council joined forces with Oxygen Finance using the FreePay programme to ensure small businesses were paid in a timely manner.
This allowed the council to pay £2.63 million to smaller suppliers early, keeping cash flow healthy and protecting hundreds of jobs and businesses.
The partnership between the council and Oxygen Finance is in contention to win the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Community’ category of the Thames Valley Business & Community Awards. This year’s awards are being held on Wednesday 30 November, with the council up against nine other finalists.
Since March 2020, 112 small business in Wokingham Borough have signed up to take part in the FreePay scheme, which has made it easier for smaller suppliers to be paid in a reasonable time.
During that time, the council has also:
- Provided grants to 1,590 small local businesses
- Paid out £18.3 million in Small Business and Retail and Leisure grants
- Made more than £1 million in discretionary grant payments
- Gave almost £20 million of business rates relief
Support for businesses in tough times
Cllr Clive Jones, leader of the council, said: “As a forward-thinking council, we always look for ways we can help the community and get money to the businesses that need it most. One of our key priorities is to ensure that none of our residents, or small businesses, get left behind as we rebuild after Covid-19.
“Our community vision sets out our intention to make Wokingham Borough a great place to live, learn work, grow and do business. Without the key pillar of stability for small businesses, there are so many individuals that would struggle and wider implications for the borough as a whole.
"We are delighted that our partnership with Oxygen Finance has been recognised and is in contention to win an award. It reflects our passion to see all residents given the opportunity to thrive, even with immense challenges working against us all.”
Businesses in Wokingham Borough are eligible for the FreePay scheme if they have fewer than 50 employees and a turnover of less than £5 million. The technology involved screens every invoice received and automatically flags anything that is eligible for early payment.
And as part of the FastTrack programme, businesses can receive payment once an invoice is authorised, usually within ten days. Receiving payment ahead of the standard 30-day terms helps with cash flow and reduce reliance on loans or overdrafts.
By being paid early, small and micro suppliers can cut down on valuable time chasing invoices, pay wages on time and protect jobs. Providing vital services and attracting potential future suppliers also enhances the profile of the council within the business community.
Protecting small firms and local jobs
Ben Jackson, CEO of Oxygen Finance, commented: “Oxygen is in the business of helping local firms thrive. That’s why we are so proud to partner with Wokingham Borough Council, delivering a boost to the Wokingham Borough economy with FreePay.
"Together we believe that accelerating payment to the small firms who most need it is the best way to help protect their cashflow and secure local jobs, which is why we are so delighted that we have been jointly shortlisted for this important award.”
In addition to financial issues, more than four in five small business owners say the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. That is why the council works with partners across the borough to provide services at the right time for their wellbeing, as well as supporting them where possible to stay and grow.
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