According to Karia Christopher, director of the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs, “99 percent of businesses that apply will qualify” for the government’s $6.5 million Small Business Sector Grant Programme launched to provide relief to firms struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking Monday at a virtual roundtable sponsored by the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association, Ms. Christopher outlined the requirements of the programme, which is now accepting applications, and explained the help her agency is offering to businesses that may need assistance qualifying and accessing the funds.
To be eligible for a grant, firms must have been established before Jan. 31 and have no more than 20 employees. Daycares, private schools and religious and nonprofit organisations won’t qualify for this particular grant, she added.
Ms. Christopher explained that the only required document for the application, which is available now through the government’s official website, is a trade licence. The department will also ask for certificates of good standing from the Social Security Board, National Health Insurance and Inland Revenue.
“Please don’t be alarmed if you do not have them,” Mr. Christopher said, adding, “You still will qualify.”
As part of the application process, the department is advising businesses that they should be prepared to open as soon as possible, which for many tourism businesses means as soon as borders reopen fully.
However, Ms. Christopher also noted the concerns of some attendees who are struggling to get operational again after being closed for months.
“Having your business closed for March, April, May, June — maybe four months — it takes a toll on you. Some people have already decided, ‘You know what? I am up and out.
I’m never going to open up this again,’” she said. “And then there’s another couple of people who will say that ‘Once the government is there to support me with different aspects of finances and how to get myself back on track, I’m prepared.’”
As part of its support, the department will gather information from applicants to determine how well-equipped they are with fundamental tools such as business plans, financial and reporting infrastructure, and entrepreneurial skills, and applicants will be able to attend training programmes offering
“There will be workshops in terms of managing your money, in terms of marketing, in terms of keeping your finances together, if you feel … you need some more courage to get you back up there,” she explained.
Ms. Christopher also received questions about the amount of funding likely to be disbursed to each business.
“Because there’s a finite amount of money, $6.5 million, [it] depends how many people will apply,” she explained.
Patlian Johnson, who worked with the Premier’s Office on the development of the grant programme, explained that “the amount of money that the government is going to allocate a particular business is going to have some relation to how you’ve been impacted. You answer the questions related to your revenue and expenditure, because we really want to get an idea of what are the losses that businesses have incurred as a result of Covid-19.”
The panellists also addressed questions of transparency and what evaluation criteria would be used.
“This process has been heavily audited,” Ms. Christopher said. “So when the time comes, and the time will come, we are required to say how many males versus how many females; … how many people over 35; District One versus District Two.”
Although the actual database of applicants will be kept private, the evaluation criteria “can be disseminated probably after the application process is closed,” she said. “We want to make sure that the public, the business community, has a sense of faith and confidence in the department. So we want to be transparent with you for the entire process. And if we can’t answer your question, I promise you, we will come back to you and give you clarity.”
Government initially promised that applications for business grants would be available on June 15, but the forms were not released until last week.
The $6.5 million was part of a larger $40 million grant from the Social Security Board to fund various economic stimulus measures, many of which have been struggling to get off the ground since they were announced in late May.