MORE than 1,100 small businesses were able to diversify during the pandemic thanks to £1.14m of council-funded micro grants which saved hundreds from closure.

City of York Council is now proposing to invest £100,000 to support the safe return of business-led events and festivals.

The authority's micro grants helped 1,114 small businesses to survive the Covid crisis. An independent evaluation revealed that 294 businesses were saved from closure since the grants were launched in March 2020; another 635 businesses were helped to adapt their products and services.

The grants supported small, micro and one-person York businesses, including self-employed people, who were affected by Covid-19 restrictions but not eligible for the existing Government grants.

Alongside the grants, they were also given a year’s membership of the Federation of Small Businesses (FBS).

The council intends to use additional expected funding from the Government’s own programme of Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) to safely reintroduce many of the city's regular events and festivals.

Events before and after Christmas, such as the Food and Drink Festival, Ice Trail, Jorvik Viking Festival and York Design Week usually rely on sponsorship and commercial support, much of which is depleted.

To support these local business-led events across the city, the council’s executive will discuss allocating £100k from the ARG funding later next week.

Cllr Nigel Ayre, executive member for finance and performance, said the work to support small businesses had helped identify the strengths and weaknesses of the grant process to inform future grant schemes, and provide insights on future business support needs including internet and transport connectivity.

Cllr Andrew Waller, executive member for economy and strategic planning, said: “The proposed investment in business-led events and festivals is another opportunity to work with partners, especially business and traders networks, which has been at the heart of our approach over the past year.

“Whilst this continues to be a challenging time for local businesses, there are signs that give reason for positivity. For example, over the last 12 months, 91 new businesses have opened in York and independent businesses have increased to 68 per cent, compared to 65per cent last year and 62 per cent three years ago.

"709 start-up businesses have been registered in York in the first three quarters of 2020/21, which is extremely encouraging to see. Our work with local small and micro businesses will continue to underpin the next steps in our path to economic recovery.”

Almost a third of the small and micro businesses which received the council’s micro grant were interviewed to find out about the grants’ impact. Of these 294 business said they’d been at risk of closing but the grant had helped them avoid that, while 35 per cent used the grant to invest in equipment, technology or materials.

Other results found:

25% used it to digitalise the business

17% used it for marketing

57% respondents said the business provides the main household income

10% mentioned the positive impact the grants had had on their wellbeing

57% had adapted or diversified their business

42% had put some or all of their business online.