Canberra businesses say they will need more support beyond mid-October, when government COVID-19 financial support measures for business and disaster payments will end.
“Business owners are worried that when they are only allowed to open at 25 per cent capacity, or in some instances for nightclubs, not open at all, they will have the tap turned off,” stated John-Paul Romano, chairman of the Inner-South Canberra Business Council.
“This is plainly the Government spitting in the face of predominantly small and medium businesses who have been hurting for over two years.”
The COVID-19 Business Support Grants will be extended by a fortnight to mid-October, it was announced today, taking the baseline payment to $40,000 for employing businesses and to $15,000 for non-employing businesses. Medium and larger businesses will receive a top-up payment of $10,000 to $30,000, scaled based on their turnover.
In line with the Federal Government’s National Plan for Reopening, these grants will end when 80 per cent of the ACT’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Mr Romano urged Federal and ACT politicians to continue the Business Grants until 12 December. This, he said, would allow businesses to get back on their feet and reemploy staff who were laid off. Another option was a support for reopened businesses.
“Many businesses are concerned they will be left without any government support for them or their employees, recalling that JobKeeper continued for several months after the end of lockdown in 2020,” Mr Romano wrote.
Tom Adam, president of the Phillip Business Community, agreed.
“You cannot reduce people’s ability to earn a living, and then expect them to wear losses – just because it’s politically opportunistic,” he said. “This is the ‘investment’ that ACT businesses need to have the confidence to trade until more normal times come back.”
The ACT Greens also condemned the Federal Government’s withdrawal of disaster funding.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that the ACT Government would continue support for certain industry sectors until the end of the year, and some schemes (as announced on Tuesday) would continue into the first quarter or first half of 2022.
Mr Barr also announced that ACT fitness and sport industries – such as gyms, personal trainers, and dance teachers – could now apply for the COVID-19 Tourism, Accommodation Provider, Arts, Events, Hospitality and Fitness Grants.
Mr Adam was jubilant. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “Finally, we have had our industries recognised as important to the Canberra community.”
Gym and fitness studios have worried how they will survive given restrictions on numbers.
Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said the two-week extension of the Business Grants would protect Canberra jobs and the economy. The Morrison Government, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, had already provided more than $2 billion in direct economic support to ACT households and businesses since the pandemic began last year.
As of today, almost 5,400 applications will have been approved, to the value of $85 million. More than 1,400 have undergone partial assessment and will move into the next phase of assessment, while further information is still needed for 1,750.
Mr Barr called the Business Grants “an important lifeline to businesses impacted by significantly reduced turnover”, in a joint media release with Federal colleagues – but at today’s press conference, lambasted the process as inefficient.
The ACT Government had to establish new protocols and arrangements, Mr Barr said, because the Commonwealth refused to let the ACT use its payment mechanism – despite allowing it for JobKeeper last year, and having the necessary information about bank accounts and ABNs.
Those who have waited longest and those who have not received any payment yet will be prioritised.
“I said from the outset that the Commonwealth pathway to `deliver assistance by state and territory governments administering grants schemes was amongst the least efficient ways [to deliver the program],” Mr Barr said.
“I share the frustration, but I said all through last year that a grant scheme was going to be cumbersome, take time, and be administratively difficult – and that’s absolutely right.”