Bercy promises to accelerate the solidarity fund

While many business leaders and independents are voicing complaints about the procedures for touching the aid put in place by Bercy, Bruno Le Maire promises a boost for the months to come. While also insisting on the need to increase controls in order to limit fraud.

4.5 billion euros per month

By presenting on Wednesday February 24 the new developments of the solidarity fund, the Minister of the Economy recalled the major importance of this instrument in the face of the crisis. Between March and December 2020, the solidarity fund thus benefited 2 million businesses, at a cost of up to 15 billion euros. The whole “Without major incident”, notes Bruno Le Maire.

→ EXPLANATION. Covid-19: How companies have used state aid

Created in March 2020 as a tool intended primarily for very small businesses, the solidarity fund has since refocused on the most affected sectors (catering, aeronautics, cultural tourism, etc.) but also extended to larger groups. With a cost which now reaches 4.5 billion euros per month.

The multiple modifications made to the device over the months have led to more complexity and therefore to a lengthening of the deadlines, acknowledged the Minister. Thus, the form for requesting aid for the month of January was finally put online only on February 24. “We must correct this defect”, recognizes Bruno Le Maire, ensuring that next month’s form will be available from March 15.

Reinforcement of controls

At the same time, the Minister justifies that the procedures can take a little time. This delay is explained by the need for “Strengthening of controls given the increase in amounts paid”.

→ READ. Covid-19: press conference by Jean Castex, Dunkirk, single-dose vaccine, delay for AstraZeneca and Janssen … The recap of February 24

Bruno Le Maire gave details of the fraud detected. After the first confinement, where around a million companies had benefited from the solidarity fund, Bercy thus sifted through 92,000 files. And found fraud in 33,000 cases. This does not mean, however, that a third of the companies have defrauded, as the checks have obviously targeted suspicious files.

Since October, the verification procedure has been based more on a multiplication of a priori checks. It leads to “To reject 15% of requests, by automatic filters or after an examination by our services”, explains Bruno Le Maire. A screening that would have avoided paying 2 billion euros.

The fraudulent files most frequently detected by Bercy are those of companies which no longer had any activity and were reactivated only to benefit from the solidarity fund. Other companies are trying to file “Five, six, and up to 12 simultaneous requests”, reports the Minister. Some can also claim to have achieved in 2019 a turnover much higher than that which they had declared at the time to the taxes.

Address abuse

Alongside these more or less subtle frauds, Bruno Le Maire intends to put an end to certain abuses “Which may be involuntary”. This is the case in catering, where the compensation mechanism does not take take-out sales into account when calculating aid. This leads to compensating certain fast-food brands even though they currently achieve more turnover than before with take-out sales alone, by combining on-site sales and take-out sales.

→ ANALYSIS. Between emergency and recovery, the two government strategies

The solidarity fund will, on the other hand, be more generous for certain activities that are particularly penalized, in particular those which have to bear high rents. A new mechanism will therefore be instituted for the benefit of businesses that are still closed or whose activity is severely hampered (shopping malls, spa resorts, restaurant in ski resorts, sports halls, etc.).

In these sectors, companies will be able to benefit from additional assistance to cover their fixed costs. Bercy has obtained from the European Commission that for these specific cases the total aid ceiling that a company can receive is raised from 3 to 10 million euros.

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