£20 notes
The Emergency Support Scheme used to be provided by central government (photo: Howard Lake via CC BY-SA 2.0)

Greenwich Council has reversed its decision to scrap a scheme giving grants to help people in financial trouble after a last-minute change to how it receives business rates.

The council had planned to stop its Emergency Support Scheme, which helps vulnerable people in emergencies or after fires or floods. The grants usually help people buy furniture, white goods and pay rent.

These grants used to be paid by central government, but were abolished by Evening Standard editor George Osborne in 2013 as part of his austerity programme as chancellor of the exchequer, with councils having to pay them instead.

But a cabinet meeting called at short notice yesterday decided to restore the scheme for one year, after it emerged that Greenwich would get more than expected from a Government pilot scheme to pool business rates across London.

Now £750,000 will be used to keep the scheme running for a year, while the remaining £1.25 million will be held as a contingency for other issues.

Last year, Greenwich received over 4,000 applications for the payments, of which about a third were accepted. The council says demand is increasing, with £13,000 paid out in December alone.

Both Labour and Conservative council leaders have warned that local government services are on the brink of imploding because of years of austerity cuts. Last week, Greenwich’s Labour leader Danny Thorpe warned the council was “at the end of the line” when it came to finances.

Commenting on social media this morning, Thorpe said: “After 9 years of sustained and constant Tory austerity, we’re at the bone. £1,400 per household less than in 2010. We’ve used the one off resources to save this scheme for another year and will do all we can to keep it going.”

The change to the council’s budget will be rubber-stamped at a full council meeting this evening.

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