After a lukewarm response to the ACT Government’s ChooseCBR discount vouchers, the program has been extended by three days but a local business leader has said they pay lip service to businesses who need the biggest economic boost.
The ChooseCBR program was due to finish at 11:59 pm tonight (21 December), but the trial will now conclude at 11:59 pm on Christmas Eve (24 December).
The $500,000 ACT Government initiative went live on 9 December and had 302 businesses register in the first week. However, only about $65,000 worth of vouchers were downloaded in the first five days, which rose slightly to $80,000 as of 15 December.
As of last Friday (18 December), more than 40,000 people had signed up to use the vouchers at 313 participating businesses but less than half of the $500,000 vouchers had been claimed.
Despite the initial interest, the head of the Phillip Business Community, Tom Adam, said he was not surprised to see the lukewarm response.
He said the ACT Government had rushed the scheme out ahead of Christmas and it would do little to help businesses struggling to meet interest repayments on short-term loans to keep afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve promoted the scheme to my mailing list and via social media but the take up of the vouchers have all been through existing customers,” he said.
“It’s like a free credit card for some of the customers.”
Mr Adam said he has spoken with many other businesses in the Phillip community who had simply given up on the registration process because they found it too time-consuming when they were already busy trying to make the most of the Christmas period.
“Because of the lack of advertising from the ACT Government on the scheme, there’s no social promotion. There are no boosted ads that I’ve seen on social media, so there’s a lot of stuff they’re not taking on board in terms of how you market a business and how I market my business.
“I’m looking forward to talking with the business minister more about this,” he said.
Minister for Business and Regulation Tara Cheyne defended the scheme, saying it is proving to be a great economic boost for business and was being extended in response to feedback from the community.
“The ChooseCBR trial is having an impact on our local economy. For every $1 of discount claimed, about $6.20 is being injected into the economy. This is fantastic for local businesses and local jobs after the tough year we’ve had,” Ms Cheyne said.
“I’ve been listening to the feedback over the past few days and seeing the numbers of Canberrans signing up increase.”
Following the trial, the program will be assessed with the government to consider ways to increase accessibility for business owners and customers before a proposed $2 million rollout in 2021.
Mr Adam, who runs a martial arts and fitness centre in Phillip, said he hasn’t had any new customers from the ChooseCBR vouchers and had also approached a number of businesses to provide a case study of the scheme but they were fearful of retribution from landlords who are also feeling the pinch from banks.
“I said to the business minister [Tara Cheyne] last week that they need to be emailing businesses who have registered every day and sending them flyers, like they did with the health restrictions notices I’ve got on my window.
“If people are buying an extra cupcake, that’s great, but what about the businesses that really need the extra income?”
Ms Cheyne said the ACT Government had also compiled a webpage via artsACT that encouraged people to support the local arts scene and buy a one-of-a-kind gift, crafted by locals.
However, Margaret Hadfield who runs the Artists’ Shed in Fyshwick said she was also not aware of the new artsACT webpage, and she was very upset at not being able to register for the ChooseCBR vouchers.
“I feel like artists like myself and others have been left on the periphery after doing our best to survive the COVID restrictions,” Ms Hadfield told Region Media.
“I wasn’t able to get beyond the first stage of registering for the vouchers because it said you should have been a receiver of JobKeeper of JobSeeker. We’re a business earning under $100,000 if we’re lucky, so we were eliminated from the process on account of that.
“I feel like we’re being overlooked because this is what I love to do and I was really upset at not being able to register the business for the vouchers.”