NEARLY £50million of government aid intended for small businesses in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch went unclaimed.

Council chiefs say the Treasury allocated aid for beach hut owners who were then ruled out of applying for it by the government’s own criteria.

The anomaly regarding beach huts has been cited as the reason many coastal councils were on course to return large sums to government after two grant schemes closed last Friday.

Analysis by suggested BCP Council was on course to return £50m to the government – the largest amount of any council in England.

The council was allocated £128.8m to cover 7,139 businesses, of which 6,153 had claimed by the time released its analysis.

Salman Haqqi of said: “Back in March, the chancellor announced a whole host of emergency measures to try and protect the economy from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This included the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) scheme and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund (RHLGF).”

He said there had been “much confusion” about eligibility and that the site had put together a guide to help business owners understand what support they were eligible for.

BCP Council says it issued more than £79m through the two schemes and believed it had awarded money to 87 per cent of eligible businesses.

Council leader Cllr Vikki Slade said: “Following the announcement from government at the end of July that its two national business support grant schemes will shortly be ending, we have been working hard to reach out to any remaining businesses who we think are eligible. This has included extensive promotion through our media channels and a third invite in the post to the registered business address advising them of the August 27 application deadline.

“A total of £128m was provided to BCP Council from government for these two schemes at the start of lockdown. We believe that their over-allocation of funding was possible due to them including beach hut owners in their original assessment and then excluding them in their detailed eligibility guidance.

“We also acknowledge that grants are taxable and in some cases businesses may not want to accept this funding. We are only able to award grants to businesses who meet the government’s criteria and any remaining funds must be returned to them.’’

“We will continue to lobby government for further support for local businesses.’’

To be considered eligible for either grant, businesses had to be ratepayers and operate from premises under the rateable value limits for each scheme. The rateable value cap was set at £15,000 for the Small Business Grant Fund and £51,000 for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.