The ACT Government will continue with the ChooseCBR voucher scheme’s full rollout despite claims from the Opposition that the scheme has ignored Canberra businesses and had poor take-up by the multicultural business community.
The $500,000 trial went live in December last year and 302 businesses registered in the first week. But it was greeted with a lukewarm response by Canberrans who only downloaded about $65,000 worth of vouchers in the first five days.
Following the trial, the program is being assessed to consider ways to increase accessibility for business owners and customers before a proposed $2 million rollout sometime this year.
The ChooseCBR scheme was designed to encourage consumers to spend money at participating local businesses by offering digital discount vouchers redeemable at participating businesses. It was designed as an economic stimulus measure to support the ACT’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
Minister for Business and Regulation Tara Cheyne has repeatedly defended the scheme, saying it proved to be a great economic boost for business and was being extended in response to community feedback.
“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,” Ms Cheyne said shortly after the trial.
However, Shadow Minister for Businesses Leanne Castley said it was no wonder only 336 of Canberra’s 30,000 small businesses had signed up for the trial.
She and Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee also took aim at the scheme for ignoring Canberra business owners from the multicultural community.
“Administration costs were a staggering $123,000 out of a total $500,000 spend, but still the Minister could not explain what, if anything, the government was doing to make sure small businesses run by traders with English as a second language could participate,” said Ms Castley.
“The rebooted scheme will not be a success if such a big group of small businesses cannot understand how to sign up and participate.
“I call on the Minister to explain how the rebooted scheme will be different this time and how she will ensure all of Canberra’s small businesses can participate so no one is left out,” Ms Castley said.
Ms Lee said she wrote to Business Minister Tara Cheyne in December to ask what support was available to ensure businesses run by Canberrans with English as a second language could access the program. Ms Lee said the minister had not responded.
“Unfortunately, many of these business owners had never heard of the ChooseCBR scheme, let alone have any information or support to access the scheme,” said Ms Lee.
“It would have been great to see the program rolled out in a way to ensure ease for all businesses to sign up and get involved.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said 2,000 local businesses were eligible during the trial and reiterated that the December ChooseCBR trial was to inform the full rollout of the scheme later this year.
The spokesperson added that the Government had engaged with local business organisations and stakeholders in the multicultural community to ensure information reached businesses owned by individuals from non-English speaking backgrounds.
A number of hospitality venues from various cultural backgrounds also registered for the program during the trial.
“The government is currently working on the rollout of the full ChooseCBR program based on what was learned from the trial,” the spokesperson said. “We will work closely with the local business community to ensure more Canberra businesses are on board and the program’s appeal is broadened.
“The ACT Government will continue to work with our multicultural business community to ensure programs and initiatives that support small business are accessible.”