The Victorian government has unveiled another $290 million in what Premier Daniel Andrews has called “important business support”, to add to the $3 billion package announced over the weekend.
While $100 million of that provides much-needed support for sole traders, the rest is focused on helping small and medium-sized businesses get ready for a new normal of al fresco hospitality.
Andrews pointed to New York as a shining example.
“They have been able to get their hospitality sector back to something approaching normal, much faster than what would otherwise have been the case, because they have used the footpath, curbside parking and taken public space and turned it into pop-up cafes, restaurants, bars,” he said.
“That is exactly what we’re going to do. We will change the way the city operates and indeed the suburbs and indeed regional cities.”
This will all come into play as regional Victoria gears up for an imminent easing of restrictions. It’s also in anticipation of businesses opening up in metropolitan Melbourne in late-October, according to the government’s reopening roadmap.
“This summer will be unlike any other,” Andrews said.
In fact, he suggested the changes may even become permanent.
“And I expect that by the end of the summer, so popular will these arrangements be … I think that that will become, in many respects, a lasting feature of the way the city, and the suburbs, and indeed the whole state functions,” he said.
“We don’t want the cost to be a barrier to already strapped businesses, that are already under considerable pressure, being able to make that transition.”
Here’s what’s included in the support package.
$100 million for the City of Melbourne
The state government has introduced a Melbourne City Recovery Fund, in partnership with the City of Melbourne.
The fund will offer grants “to businesses to move their activities outdoors, to fund COVIDSafe events and new infrastructure as we head into the warmer months and as people are welcomed back into the CBD”, Victorian Minister for Business Precincts Martin Pakula said at the press conference.
Grants will help support some 16,500 businesses registered in the City of Melbourne, which Pakula said provide “north of 470,000 jobs”.
Some $30 million will be available for small and medium-sized hospitality businesses, to help reconfigure their spaces to allow for outside dining.
This will include funding the conversion of courtyards and rooftop spaces, and cash for purchasing additional furniture, umbrellas and plastic safety screens.
Details of this grants program are still being finalised and will be made available “in the coming days and weeks”, Pakula said.
An additional $30 million has been allocated for supporting COVIDSafe events and activities, when it is deemed safe to host them, in a bid to encourage people to visit Melbourne’s CBD.
Finally, $40 million will be put towards “providing physical improvements to the CBD streetscape”, Pakula said.
That could include creating more bike lanes and wider footpaths, or putting in bollards to pedestrianise streets.
“It will create a new al fresco environment for CBD dining, which I expect will be enjoyed for many summers hence,” Pakula explained.
Support outside of Melbourne
The second tranche of the funding provides $87.5 million in ‘outdoor hospitality support’ for businesses outside of Melbourne CBD, to “drive innovation and creativity in the way we model our hospitality offering”.
The majority of this — $58 million — will provide grants for facilitating outdoor entertainment. Again, this may cover furniture and the repurposing of spaces, or can be used for investment in training or advertising.
Hospitality businesses with payroll of less than $3 million will be able to apply for grants of up to $5,000 under this scheme.
The other $29.5 million will be distributed to local councils, to help them facilitate outdoor hospitality.
“Some of that money can be passed onto businesses in the form of reducing or waiving permit fees, but they can also be invested in infrastructure like streetscaping,” Pakula explained.
Councils in metropolitan areas and regional cities will be able to apply for up to $500,000, and rural councils will be able to apply for up to $250,000.