'Some Westmeath businesses that need restart grant haven't applied for it'

Around 700 businesses in Westmeath have received €2.5 million in restart grants distributed by the county council, but the chief executive of the local authority said this week that some firms which could benefit from the scheme have not yet applied for it.

"There are businesses out there that could benefit from this (grant) but haven't applied to date, so we would encourage them to do so as quickly as possible," said Westmeath County Council CEO Pat Gallagher yesterday (Monday). "We can assure businesses that their application will be dealt with promptly."

Mr Gallagher, pictured above, was speaking at a meeting of the county's Joint Policing Committee in Athlone Civic Centre, where he provided an update on actions taken by the local authority in response to the pandemic.

Since May, county councils have been administering the Government's restart grant scheme which is designed to help businesses reopen or keep their premises operational during these difficult times.

The grants, which range from €2,000 to €10,000 per business, are designed to be equivalent to their rates demand in 2019. Applications can continue to be made for the restart grant up until the end of August.

In addition, Mr Gallagher said a community call helpline operated by each county council, which was initiated during the lockdown, is now being reviewed nationally because the number of people contacting it fell sharply as restrictions eased.

In Westmeath, the helpline (1800 805 816) is staffed by the council between 9am and 5pm, seven days a week.

From the end of March up until July 5, there were 460 calls to the helpline, many of which related to the collection and delivery of goods, social supports, service offerings, medical needs or transport enquiries.

Mr Gallagher told this week's meeting that the helpline had been "very busy" in March and April, but the continuation of the service was now under review.

"There is a wish to keep it going for cases that arise, however, as people are able to get out and about more easily now, the number of requests to that helpline have reduced considerably. I'd like to record our appreciation to all the organisations that have assisted and supported in that," he said.

The council CEO also spoke about other measures taken by the local authority in response to the pandemic, including "the temporary reassignment of a number of staff", providing technical support in establishing Covid-19 testing centres, public health interventions in meat factories, and the tasking of Westmeath Civil Defence.

He said there had been "very good public engagement" with a Government-backed community wellness initiative called 'In This Together' and added that there had been a 238% increase in usage of online Westmeath library resources, including eBooks, eAudiobooks and online learning courses.

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