21 May 2021

ChooseCBR vouchers a waste in ACT's boom economy

| Ian Bushnell
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Tara Cheyne

Business Minister Tara Cheyne said the voucher model has been improved. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 or at least the restrictions that have kept the virus at bay in the ACT hit some businesses hard, particularly hospitality.

Discount voucher programs have been one way for governments to support businesses and boost traffic through stores and venues. Business Minister Tara Cheyne has pressed on with the ChooseCBR scheme, announcing this week $2 million worth of vouchers along with improvements to the original model trialled in December that was plagued with problems and copped its fair share of criticism.

One can understand the intent, but does a COVID-free Canberra more or less back to normal really need such a scheme?

Most of the businesses involved so far are cafes and restaurants, with a few other retailers, including Adam and Eve at Fyshwick, listed under personal care along with some day spas and some other service providers.

READ ALSO ChooseCBR vouchers announced for June with bigger discounts, more businesses

The idea is to bolster businesses during the bleaker winter months of the year, but since the curve was well and truly flattened, Canberra’s economy has powered back to its usual efficient self.

Unemployment is again the lowest in the nation at 3.4 per cent, the housing market is on fire and people have been spending up big in the shops since Christmas.

Last month’s retails numbers showed turnover in the ACT above pre-pandemic levels as shoppers poured back into shopping centres with plenty of spare cash after not being able to travel.

Plenty of them have been having the odd coffee while doing so, and paying surcharges so businesses can cover the penalty rates they don’t really want to fork out to their staff.

So in the most stable economy in the nation, with the highest average salaries and a secure public sector employment base, should government, which is already spending a motza at all levels to keep things going, hand out another couple of million to mostly well-off Canberrans to put through businesses that should really be doing OK by now?

Everybody acknowledges the importance of small business, but they have already been the beneficiary of massive government support, including JobKeeper and extended tax write-offs.

And if a business really needs a boost, will a few vouchers do the trick?

COVID-19 can’t keep being blamed for everything that is not quite right. Perhaps the answers to a failing business lie elsewhere.

It will also be interesting to see how many people actually bother to access the digital vouchers and get their discounted meal, haircut or sex toy.

I hope I’m wrong and the take-up is whole-hearted and it does make a difference for a business or two.

But this is $2 million that could be spent elsewhere, say on a few more affordable houses, or women’s shelters or school maintenance or a sports facility.

What we don’t know is how much the program has cost to model, set up and run.

That will add considerably to the overall cost.

This is more a gesture than a genuine stimulus measure, and after the trial flopped, the government should have shelved the idea and moved on.

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Simple, Tara needs to go!

ChrisinTurner11:50 am 23 May 21

Keep in mind it is only Ian Bushnell’s opinion.

And most of the tax paying people of Canberra.

Sorry should clarify, that the money should have been better spent. Although not denying real small business still needs help, I have noticed quite a few struggling and some disappeared over Covid. Chemist Warehouse McDonalds etc.. are not small business.

Tara, as you are on this forum, I object to your government raising our rates every year and then giving away our taxes as coffee vouchers to businesses who neither sought or needed them. That is not stimulus, it is wasteful extravgence and self indulgence. Ratepayers will respect a local politicial more for prudent and sensible financial mangement and not at all for self promoting antics. Cancel it.

Capital Retro6:56 pm 21 May 21

“It’s not intended to be a subsidy scheme. It is a stimulus scheme.” says Tara.

Stimulus good, subsidy bad.

HiddenDragon6:38 pm 21 May 21

“Last month’s retails numbers showed turnover in the ACT above pre-pandemic levels as shoppers poured back into shopping centres with plenty of spare cash after not being able to travel.”

Unless there’s more granular data which shows that the increased spending is across the board – i.e. all aspects of retail, and businesses of all sizes (not just big names in the shopping malls and that powerhouse hardware retailer), the aggregate figures might be masking an uneven recovery. Smaller retailers are looking a bit less glum than they were last year, but many of those businesses still seem to be dealing with trade which is relatively light and patchy.

Mark my words, uptake will be very strong simply because I can spend $20 for lunch, have enough leftovers for dinner all at the cost of $10. If I shop at a local green grocer I could get my weekly groceries for $50. This will put an absolute rocket under house prices in the ACT. The budgeted $2mil is a severe understatement, think $200mil + is more realistic. And it will all go into the property market.

An idea might be to use the vouchers to stimulate the economy and if you can afford or would like to give back the amount saved as a donation to your chosen charity or a food bank in ACT? Then everyone gets something.

Would have been better to give discounts on rates or other government charges

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