The Victorian government has announced a $100 million package of grant funding for the state’s sole traders, who have previously been excluded from the Business Support Fund package.
The announcement comes after Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday promised a “package of considerable support” for sole traders, as he unveiled a $3 billion support package for Victorian small and medium-sized businesses.
Today, Minister for Business Precincts Martin Pakula announced $100 million in grants funding for sole traders.
Grants of $3,000 are available to sole traders who are tenants or licensees in commercial premises.
It is thought this will be available to some 33,000 sole traders.
“That will be those traders who work in areas like accommodation and tourism, some non-permitted retail, media and film production, gyms, creative studios, outdoor entertainment, private museums and galleries,” Pakula said.
More detail on eligibility for these grants is expected in the coming days.
Pakula specified that the support is intended for “those sole traders which have the greatest restrictions and the greatest overheads”.
He noted that there are more than 400,000 sole traders in the state, and pointed out that they have been “primarily supported by the commonwealth”.
Sole traders have been able to access JobKeeper support. But, this will be decreasing at the end of the month.
Pakula suggested the grant funding is “as appropriately targeted as it can be”.
The state government is “happy to make support available to as large a cohort as we can reasonably and responsibly do”, he added.
“I understand not every sole trader — like the ones working from home, or those that are reopening on 28 September — will be necessarily pleased by that.
Pakula noted that previous funding has focused on businesses that employ people.
This $100 million comes as “a recognition of the serious challenges that sole traders have faced”, he said.
“It will allow tens of thousands of them to help them pay their overheads, to give them the opportunity to emerge on the other side and recover strongly,” he added.
This funding comes as part of an additional $290 million package announced today, which also includes funding for businesses in Melbourne’s CBD to go al fresco.
What’s in it for sole traders?
Today’s announcement follows Sunday’s pledge of $3 billion in funding for SMEs in Victoria, effectively doubling previous support.
Speaking on Sunday, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas called this “the single biggest package of its kind in the history of the state of Victoria”.
Notably, it extends the existing Business Support Fund to the tune of $822 million. However, this grants program is only available to businesses that are signed up for JobKeeper, and that have employees, meaning sole traders have been left out.
Other newly announced support includes further deferral of payroll tax, and grants to licensed venues, neither of which apply to sole traders.
However, while details are scant at this time, there are support options that sole traders may well be able to take advantage of.
Sunday’s package includes $20 million in funding for small businesses to access ‘off-the-shelf’ digital products to help them make the shift to online operations.
There’s also a $15.7 million export recovery package, helping address logistics and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, but it’s currently unclear what this will look like.
The state government is also spending $8.5 million on marketing and advertising for its Click for Vic e-commerce campaign, encouraging Victorians to shop online with local businesses.
Support can’t come soon enough
Sole traders have been calling for targeted support for some time. The strict stage four restrictions have left many unable to operate, but also unable to claim additional financial support.
Pakula previously claimed the government could not afford to extend the grants to sole traders.
“In the first trance of Business Support Funds, we paid out $10,000 to 77,000 businesses. If we included sole traders, that number would have at least doubled, probably quadrupled,” he told 2GB.
“We simply don’t have the capacity to do that.”
In August, Victorian sole trader Wendy Chamberlain launched a petition calling for more support for business owners like her.
For some sole traders, this was make or break, she said, suggesting people may risk huge fines and keep working, in a desperate bid to save their livelihoods.
“People are being put under a lot of stress,” she said.
“And when you’re in a stressful situation and you get desperate, you’ll do whatever it takes,” she said.
“The last thing we want to be doing is putting people in a situation where they feel the only way they can cope is to go out and break the rules.”