A CONCERTED drive to ensure more than 1,600 businesses in Darlington received £16m of funding to support them through the coronavirus pandemic has been heralded.

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said the swift action of Darlington Borough Council in distributing the government funding in just three weeks since it was announced had provided a lifeline to the borough’s business community.

The rapid distribution of the funds for small businesses and those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors has also won praise from the authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott, who thanked council for their “fantastic effort” to distribute the grants. She said council workers’ speed and dedication had been the difference between businesses being forced to close and keeping afloat.

Council staff have taken more than 1,200 phone calls from business owners and responded to 900 online enquiries, all while carrying out their normal duties. One businessman sent the council an email saying he had been “astonished” by how quickly he received the funds.

Cllr Scott said: “It has been a monumental challenge for our staff to set up this scheme and pay out much needed funds to local businesses in Darlington in such a short space of time.”

Mr Gibson added: “Over the course of the past few weeks I have assisted many businesses with issues surrounding the packages of support coming forward from the Government and I stand ready to assist others who need my help, particularly where Darlington-based businesses may be having difficulties with the high street banks over their co-operation at this challenging time.”