A WAR of words has broken out over Bradford Council’s handling of support grants for businesses forced to close during the pandemic.

Keighley MP Robbie Moore has accused the council of dragging its heels over distributing the money, provided by the Government.

He says some hard-hit businesses have been waiting months for desperately-needed grants.

But Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw ­– Bradford Council’s executive member for regeneration, planning and transport – says the council is working “around the clock” to allocate the funds.

And he accuses the Conservative MP of a “cheap political stunt”.

Mr Moore says the council has a “huge” backlog of cases, many dating back to late last year.

He said that in November the Government had introduced a so-called Additional Restrictions Grant for areas like Keighley that were subject to extra Covid measures – and of the £10.7 million given to Bradford Council, little over £500,000 had been paid out to businesses by the start of this month.

“It is very disappointing that Bradford Council is taking so long to distribute these grants whilst businesses are suffering,” said Mr Moore.

“I appreciate that vetting these grants and distributing the money takes time and they must all be thoroughly checked. However, the council should be dedicating more time and resources to this. Instead it has decided to launch a Local Plan consultation, pushing forward with proposals to build many houses on our green open spaces through a consultation which seems aimed at engaging with as few people as possible.

“I am calling on Bradford Council to drop its obsession with building on our green belt and support the many businesses across the Keighley and Ilkley constituency which so desperately need these grants. I urge the council to make this a priority, as it is vital to our recovery. I will personally be taking this matter up with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.”

His call for action is supported by Sarah Wilkinson, owner of Equilibrium beauty salon in Silsden.

She said: “Bradford Council must be held accountable for the extreme delays with regards the allocation of the grants. Having spoken to many different people within the grants department at Bradford Council, they seem to be making-up the rules as they go along.”

But Cllr Ross-Shaw defends the way the council is handling the grants.

He said: “Bradford Council understands businesses urgently need these grants and is working around the clock to manage 14 different support schemes.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have paid out over £170m in business grants. More than £40m of this has been provided since the beginning of the November lockdown.

“To date, the council has issued over 20,000 grant payments totalling £47.5m in Local Restrictions Grants and £780,000 in Additional Restrictions Grants alone.

“Mr Moore’s desperate attempt to crowbar a reference to the district’s Local Plan consultation into his supposed concern for local businesses reveals this for the cheap political stunt that it is.

“It is quite absurd to suggest council planners could stop their work and immediately become qualified economic development or business rates officers.

“This is especially rich given he knows full well that the Government has made it clear it expects councils to continue progressing the Local Plans.

“The fact is, the council has a much larger base of small and micro businesses across the district than other places so received many more applications than similar-sized councils.”