The Victorian government’s announcement of grant support for sole traders has been met with disappointment across the state, with critics noting it caters to only 8% of sole traders, and won’t go very far for them anyway.
Yesterday, the government announced $100 million in grant funding will be made available to Victorian sole traders who have been ineligible for the Business Support Fund grants.
Grants of $3,000 are available to sole traders who are tenants or licensees in commercial premises.
More details about eligibility are expected to be revealed in the coming days, but it quickly became clear many sole traders will miss out.
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Making the announcement, Minister for Business Precincts Martin Pakula himself admitted that of more than 400,000 sole traders in Victoria, about 33,000 — or about 8.25% — will benefit from this grants scheme.
It’s intended to support “those sole traders which have the greatest restrictions and the greatest overheads”, he explained.
Many sole traders have been able to access JobKeeper support, however, this will be decreasing at the end of the month.
At yesterday’s press conference, 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 … will be necessarily pleased by that.”
Sole traders baffled and disappointed
Speaking to SmartCompany, Wendy Chamberlain, a real estate buyers’ agent and sole trader, called the announcement “really disappointing”.
Last month, Chamberlain set up a petition calling on the state government to extend grant support to sole traders.
But, after the announcement yesterday, “I was crestfallen”, she says.
“Why not just be there for everybody?” she asks
“Why are they picking and choosing?”
Even for the less than 10% of Victorian sole traders that are eligible for the grants, $3,000 isn’t likely to go far, she says.
“That’s one month’s rent or something,” she says
“I’m baffled and I’m disappointed,” she adds.
“They don’t understand what it takes to run a business.”
In Monday’s press conference, Pakula also noted that sole traders have been “primarily supported by the Commonwealth”, through the JobKeeper program.
At the end of the month, JobKeeper payments are set to be reduced from $1500 per fortnight to $1200.
Chamberlain believes the responsibility for taking care of Victorian citizens should fall to the state government.
“To some degree it seems they’re shirking their responsibility to support Victorians who pay taxes who come through to them,” she says.
“JobKeeper is going to be tapered off — there hasn’t been any specificity that for Victorians on JobKeeper they were going to keep it at the same level,” she notes.
“The Victorian government should be stepping up.”
In it together?
Another sole trader, property consultant Michael Furlong, tells SmartCompany he’s just looking for honesty and clarity from the government.
He feels Daniel Andrews has suggested eligibility for the sole trader grants is in line with eligibility for federal government support.
In fact, state government support is only available to employers, not the self-employed. But, this hasn’t been transparent, Furlong says.
“I would just like the Premier to get up there and say ‘we can’t help everyone’,” he explains.
Furlong also notes that even for those sole traders that will be eligible for the grants, $3000 is unlikely to make a big difference.
Before the pandemic, he was bringing in a monthly income of between $20,000 and $25,000 per month, he says.
This month, he’s projecting bringing in just $400.
“$3000 doesn’t go very far, not when you’re losing this sort of money,” he says.
Furlong’s sense of frustration with the Premier and with the state government is palpable. But, as well as financial support, what he wants as a business owner is clarity and some straight talking.
For example, he notes that on Sunday, Andrews suggested support for sole traders was on the way. When that support came, it was a small amount, for a minority of sole traders.
“He may as well have not done it … he’s pissed off more people than he’s pleased,” he says.
“That’s not supporting, it’s individualising, and that’s separating communities,” he adds.
“I understand we’re all in this together, so make everyone be together.”