Daniel Andrews’ extension of metropolitan Melbourne’s stage four lockdown, and the reopening roadmap unveiled last weekend, mean many businesses won’t be able to trade as normal until the end of November.
And that’s in a best-case scenario.
Since Sunday’s announcement, there have been more and more calls to extend the financial support available to affected businesses, including doubling the grant funding available and relaxing eligibility criteria to support those that have fallen through the cracks.
This morning, Andrews said the state government will reveal plans for additional support for affected businesses “very soon”, saying it is receiving input from business advocates.
“We’re giving business an opportunity to provide direct input to the government about the support that they need,” he said.
The announcement itself will be “very substantial”, the Premier promised.
“There is substantial business support that we’ve provided already, and we are going to add to that in a substantial way, but it’s important to get the development of that package right.”
Fiona Patten, MP for Northern Metropolitan and leader of the Reason Party, yesterday called on the Victorian government to double its Business Support Fund, to support businesses that are “on the brink of closing their doors”.
Announced at the beginning of Melbourne’s second coronavirus wave, the fund offered $10,000 grants to businesses affected by Victoria’s strict stage four lockdowns.
Now, Patten wants to see that doubled to $20,000, as well as an extension of the application deadline, and the opportunity for business owners who have received funding previously to re-apply.
In a statement, Patten said she broadly supports the Premier’s roadmap.
“I know that there are many in the business community who are suffering right now and that the slow approach to the opening up of the Victorian economy is not what many sectors wanted to hear,” she said in a statement.
“But we must tackle the health crisis to the ground before we can tackle the economic one.
“The alternative, where business opens up too quickly, only to be forced back into extended, sporadic periods of lockdowns, would be even worse.”
However, she called for “urgent and generous business grants” to come into effect immediately, and for a streamlined application process to get funding to businesses as quickly as possible.
“I back a plan where we can defeat COVID-19, but not an approach that strangles businesses at the same time,” she said.
Elsewhere, Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp has called on the Andrews government to provide “immediate additional financial assistance” to businesses still unable to open.
“Our city is on its knees, with business hanging on by a thread and the community anxious about the future,” Capp said in a LinkedIn post.
“We must work urgently together: this is not the time for delay or division.
“We are talking about people’s lives and livelihoods.”
She also demanded a more flexible approach to the reopening roadmap, with the possibility of reopening sooner if the number of COVID-19 cases within metropolitan Melbourne drops faster than expected.
“If the daily average number of cases drops more rapidly than stated in the roadmap, then hospitality and retail should be able to open sooner, including with indoor patrons,” she said.
And finally, Capp is “calling for consistency”.
As it stands, the conditions required for entering the third step in the reopening plan, allowing hospitality businesses to open to outdoor diners, mandate fewer than five new cases per day, over five days, with fewer than five total cases from an unknown source.
“If the national definition for hotspots is 10 cases per day for three days,” Capp said, “why not use this benchmark for reopening businesses and industries such as retail and hospitality?”
The ones who were left behind
For one Melbourne business owner, an extension of current financial support measures won’t make the cut.
Rather, he wants to see the eligibility criteria for support adjusted, to help those entrepreneurs who have so far fallen through the cracks.
Sacha Koffman is co-founder of startup Build Labour, a platform matching construction workers with projects suiting their skills and experience.
His business was incorporated in September 2018 and has been registered for GST and lodging BAS and tax returns ever since.
But, so far, the two co-founders have not taken a salary, making them ineligible for JobKeeper payments.
At the time JobKeeper was announced, it was “a blanket approach” from the federal government, Koffman tells SmartCompany.
“We fell through the gaps, as did hundreds of other early-stage startup companies and growth companies.”
But, in the six months that have passed since, despite lobbying from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and various other groups, “nothing has changed”, he adds.
Build Labour was on the cusp of a growth spurt, Koffman says. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, he’s sure the startup would be up and running in full swing, billing clients and making revenue.
“We can’t do that because of COVID-19, and yet we’ve got no grant,” he says.
“There’s been no relaxing of the eligibility criteria; there’s been no acceptance of the impact it’s had,” he adds.
“Nothing has evolved to take into consideration what is now known about all of these companies that have fallen through the cracks.”
At the same time, eligibility for the state government’s grants is tied to JobKeeper eligibility, meaning there’s no chance for a lifeline there either.
“If you don’t get one, you don’t get the other,” he says.
Now that Victoria has a reopening roadmap in place, it’s time to offer more support for businesses such as Koffman’s.
“I think not only should they be offering support, but they should recognise and understand that the support we have missed out on needs to be backdated,” he says.
“That includes JobKeeper. That includes any state grants,” he adds.
“This has carried on far longer than any other state and far longer than anyone would have predicted.”
While he’s not immediately concerned about the survival of his own business, there are others in the same situation as him, but worse. He knows of founders who are being forced to shut up shop on their startups and head back to the daily nine-to-five grind.
We face losing the businesses that could be the next big tech companies, bringing economic growth to Victoria, and to the country.
“Australia prides itself on small business. Australia prides itself on the startup ecosystem,” Koffman says.
“How can Australia possibly be an innovative country if all these companies … go under?
“Where is Australia going to fare in innovation?
“We are going to fall so far behind. That is my ultimate frustration.”