NDP defends $31M spending on grant program characterized as 'red tape' by opposition

The NDP government's financial support program for struggling businesses is once again under fire, this time for allegedly spending tens of millions of dollars on "red tape."

The BC Liberals slammed the provincial government this week, claiming $31 million has been spent on administrative work for the Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant program.

So far, only $50 million of the program's $300 million budget has been paid out to businesses.

"I think $31 million that is being spent on consultants to help small businesses fill out a one-page application form is the very definition of red tape," Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone told reporters Tuesday.

The NDP defended the spending, which Jobs Minsiter Ravi Kahlon said was used, in part, to help business owners who face a language barrier access supports. He called the Liberals' characterization of the costs "completely false."

"The dollars were for supporting professional services for small business, up to $2,000 for every small business to build a safety plan," Kahlon said.

That's on top of the actual grants, which pay $10,000 to $45,000 to approved businesses. Companies that started up shortly before the pandemic aren't eligible, however, nor are those that haven't suffered enough of a setback during the crisis.

The Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant program expires at the end of March, and the NDP said applications are still coming in. The government also hinted there may be more tweaks coming the program.

The province has previously been criticized for the program's slow rollout, and responded to frustration among business owners by making the grants easier to apply for in December.

Small and medium-sized businesses are eligible for grants of up to $30,000, while tourism companies can receive an extra $5,000 to $15,000.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan