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Daily Telegraph: Water’s receded, now work begins

EXTRACT: Now 11 companies, including BT, Tesco, Asda and Shell have agreed to supply experts to deliver business recovery seminars and one-to-one assistance.

Daily Telegraph: Water’s receded, now work begins

Last Updated: 1:46am BST 07/08/2007

As John Hutton visits disaster-hit Gloucestershire, Richard Tyler finds him prepared to dig deep to ensure that flood-hit firms survive

John Hutton yesterday paid his first visit to flood-hit businesses in Gloucestershire and came away pledging more help.

The Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise said the economic impact of the floods was “potentially very significant” and the Government would do all it could to mitigate it.

“Our job is to ensure that businesses recover from this catastrophy as quickly as possible,” he said.

“One thing that’s important is that just because the water has receded does not mean the problem has gone away.”

He said the purpose of his visit to Newton Trading Estate, a small light industrial park on the outskirts of Tewkesbury, was “to make sure that everything that can be done to help businesses recover is being done”.

The regional development agencies are co-ordinating much of the public assistance to businesses hit by the floods.

The South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), which covers Gloucestershire, launched a £2,500 grant scheme within days of the floods.

Mr Hutton said the RDAs response so far had been excellent. “It’s a very big test for the RDAs. It’s absolutely essential that they pass it.”

Your Business has learnt that SWRDA had no specific contingency plan to deal with the economic effects of widespread floods and Mr Hutton expressed surprise when informed.

Mr Hutton said the RDAs’ offer of £2,500 for expenses not covered by insurance was “not an absolute” level of support, and individual businesses would receive more financial help if they needed it.

“What I think will be necessary will be that the RDAs have an open mind that some firms will need more help than others. There’s no absolute cut off at £2,500. Our priority is that as many businesses as possible survive this,” he said.

Mr Hutton said the Government did have to tread carefully when extending financial assistance as it did not want to send out the signal to businesses that taxpayers would act as insurers of last resort.

He said that safeguards had to be attached to the grants to ensure that fraudulent claims were not made.

But he added: “The help we give should be as free from as much red tape as possible.”

Mr Hutton said his decision to recruit a group of companies and consultancies to provide staff with the expertise to help small firms was part of this response.

“When the floods were at their peaks there was a fantastic response from the private sector. For instance, a couple of pharmaceutical companies provided hundreds of thousands of anti-bacterial hand wash packs,” he said.

Now 11 companies, including BT, Tesco, Asda and Shell have agreed to supply experts to deliver business recovery seminars and one-to-one assistance.

“This is about mobilising not just the resources of the public sector but also the expertise of the private sector,” said Mr Hutton.

Later, after visiting five small firms, he told Your Business: “The thing that I have been struck by is the resilience of people here. These businesses are their lives. If there’s sensible, practical things we can do, then we are going to definitely do them.”

He said there were specific concerns expressed about the speed with which insurance claims were being dealt.

“It’s really critical that insurers do all they can,” said Mr Hutton.

“It’s important that the loss adjusters are in quickly, the liabilities assessed and the claims paid. I have seen businesses that are absolutely dependent on getting the green light from loss adjusters for machinery. If they don’t get it quickly their customers are going to go elsewhere.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2007/08/07/ybhutton107.xml

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