VITAL cash to support businesses in Southampton is to be released as city bosses also announce a task group will be drawing up recovery plans for the city economy.

Local businesses are now able to apply for a share of a £2.18m government grant as civic chiefs backed plans to release the funding.

The news comes as last week opposition leaders urged Southampton City Council to set up the scheme as soon as possible amid claims the authority was the only one in Hampshire not to have opened the application process.

At an extraordinary full council meeting held last night city councillors approved the release of the grant with applications set to open today.

Council leader Christopher Hammond also announced that the authority is going to set up a new business task force to prepare a five year economic strategy.

But during the meeting opposition leaders hit out at the council asking why the grant had not been released earlier.

Cllr Dan Fitzhenry, opposition leader, said: “We have the money in our account and we still can’t give people a date when they will receive the money.”

Officers said there will be different rounds of applications.

Cllr Hammond said due to the grant being discretionary the council will need more information from businesses and it is therefore “difficult” to set a specific date for the release of the cash.

“It is a little bit more complicated but you can rest assured that we want to get the money out the door”, he added.

Talking about the new task force, which is expected to be set up next month, he said it will oversee the future economic plan for the city.

Cllr Hammond added: “This task force will be part of the growth agenda that we’ve got in the city. It is going to help us respond to the economic challenge and it is about working with the industries that need help.”

It comes as last week, a city council report revealed that 23,000 jobs in Southampton are at risk due to the pandemic.

The council said the task group will facilitate engagement with the business community and key city stakeholders and said more details will follow as plans progress.