Queensland government cops criticism for delaying small business grants and blaming COVID-19


Queensland minister for small business Shannon Fentiman. Source: AAP Image/Dan Peled.

A group of Queensland small business owners is petitioning the Palaszczuk government to press ahead with grant programs waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic amid concern officials aren’t doing enough to support independent firms.

More than 600 Queenslanders have signed an online petition calling for “frozen grant applications” to be expedited in a move that’s opened the Palaszczuk government up to political criticism over its support for SMEs during the coronavirus crisis.

Brisbane-based business owner Kevin Gammie, the principal petitioner behind the protest, says the Palaszczuk government is failing small businesses in the state by delaying the award of grants.

“While every other state is stepping in and working out how they can get money in the hands of small business owners, the Queensland government has pulled right back,” Gammie says.

Criticism of the government centres around the Ignite Ideas Fund, which offers small businesses and startups up to $200,000 in funding to develop “highly innovative new products, processes or services that have reached minimum viable product stage or beyond”.

The program, launched in 2016, has awarded dozens of grants to firms in recent years across five separate funding rounds, but the latest round appears to have been derailed by the coronavirus crisis, with applications submitted months ago still not processed.

In emails seen by SmartCompany, current applicants were offered an explanation for the delay from Australian Strategic Advisory, a firm working with businesses on their grant applications.

The emails said Innovation Minister Kate Jones is considering the idea fund applications currently.

“The department is fully aware that some time has passed since you submitted your full application to Round 6 and we would like to provide you with the current status,” the email, sent on April 2, reads.

“COVID-19 was an unexpected event when the application process started and we are all well aware of the impacts it is having on the economy as a whole, businesses, not to mention the health impacts on many individuals.

“The Minister and department are very aware of the pressures on businesses at the moment and the importance of this funding to those that were shortlisted.

“The Minister is weighing up what the outcome will be, taking into account the impacts of COVID-19 on the broader Queensland economy.

“I am afraid we cannot provide any update on outcome timeframes as it is solely at the Ministers discretion. That said, we like you, are hopeful of a decision soon.”

A notice on the Ignite Ideas Fund website seeks to reassure businesses their applications are still being considered.

“Advance Queensland acknowledges that it has been some time since applications closed for Round 6 of the Ignite Ideas Fund. We would like to reassure that Round 6 of the Ignite Ideas Fund is still under consideration and we will be in touch directly with all applicants,” the note reads.

Applicants say they have still not heard about the status of their applications, more than a month after an initial explanation for the delay was provided.

The Queensland government has also adjusted funding for the state’s small business month, which was due to commence in May but will now be delivered in two parts due to the pandemic.

Businesses which had applied for funding to host events under the Queensland Small Business Month program were told last Friday they would need to resubmit grant applications for the second part in July.

“QSBM 2020 will now be delivered in a two-phase approach, with May focussing on providing access to information that will support small businesses immediately through the challenges they face as a result of COVID-19,” an email sent to grant applicants reads.

“QSBM 2020 activities, including the grant program, will be moved to July with a focus on supporting small businesses to reskill, build innovative business models and diversify revenue streams in a post-COVID-19 economy.”

“An update on your grant application, including the process for resubmitting your application for the July program, will be provided to you as soon as possible,” the email says.

Asked to respond to claims made by the petitioners, Queensland’s small business minister Shannon Fentiman said the government is working through grant applications for Queensland Small Business Month.

“We are working with industry and stakeholders to make sure we provide the right support for businesses and we will have some further good news to come on this,” the minister said in an emailed statement.

Ignite Ideas Fund grants are considered by Innovation Minister Kate Jones’ office.

The petition has been sponsored by Queensland Liberal National MP Tim Nicholls, who says Fentiman has dropped the ball.

“These grants should be unfrozen, the amount relatively is small and compared to what we’re seeing in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, where there are actually new grants of up to $10,000 being made available.

“The Queensland government is doing a dreadful job,” Nicholls says.

Clarification: A previous version of this article failed to clarify Innovation Minister Kate Jones oversees the Ignite Ideas Fund, while Shannon Fentiman is responsible for Queensland Small Business Month.

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