Cornwall Council has recovered more than £2.5million which was wrongly claimed in Covid-19 grants that it issued on behalf of the Government – and the council says it is looking to recover £960,000 more.
The Government provided millions of pounds of support for businesses affected by the pandemic and lockdown. Businesses which were eligible were invited to apply for the funding to help them cover some of their losses.
However there were concerns in Cornwall about holiday homes claiming some of the grants and it was later revealed that £170m was paid out in Cornwall to people who own holiday homes and registered them as small businesses.
At a meeting of the council’s audit committee on Friday Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew George asked the council’s auditors whether they had looked at the issue of the Covid-19 grants.
He said that “some of the Covid-19 grants were given out to unjustifiable recipients” and admitted that whilst they were legally allowed to apply for the grants it was “morally” wrong. He asked whether the auditors were looking at the validity of the grants from taxpayers’ money which were paid out by local councils.
Paul Dossett, from the council’s external auditors Grant Thornton, said: “Obviously the pandemic resulted in all sorts of government support across a range of things some of which are administered by local authorities. Clearly at the time of the dishing out of this money the government priority was pace for these grants to be paid out. We are aware from our work that some councils were given phone calls from the department, and sometimes politicians, to hurry them along.”
Mr Dossett said that some of the work his firm carried out had looked at the grants and had found some examples of fraud and said that this had largely been identified by council officers and then passed to the National Audit Office which was also looking at the issue.
Tracie Langley, chief operating officer at Cornwall Cornwall, said that the council was working on identifying applications which may have been made incorrectly but said that there was no evidence of fraud.
“We are working with the Government and the government has identified those areas where we need to have a bit of a recheck. We are not saying in the first instance that these are fraudulent.”
Ms Langley said that the council was going back through some of the applications and asking questions about those who had applied to ensure that they were eligible.
She added: “To date we have recovered £2.5million from that. There is another £960,000 that we are still looking to recover. We are not saying they were fraudulent, they were applying for a grant and the forms were difficult in some instances because people’s circumstances were very difficult and complicated.”
Ms Langley said that once the work was complete a report would be provided for the council’s Cabinet to consider and said that the council also wanted to “close off” the issue with the government.