26 August 2021

COVID business grant opens today, but is it enough?

| Dominic Giannini
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Temporary closure sign

Temporary closure sign due to COVID-19 lockdown, Sammy’s @ the Foreshore restaurant. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Business support grants of up to $10,000 have now opened for Canberra operators who remain unable to trade or are otherwise impacted by the Territory’s lockdown.

Canberra businesses that have experienced a 30 per cent decline in turnover during the lockdown, and have an annual turnover greater than $75,000, can now apply for grants of up to $10,000 if they employ people and up to $4000 if they do not.

Around 10,000 Canberra businesses are expected to be eligible for the scheme, with 8500 businesses already expressing interest.

Money from the business support grants is expected to be available within 30 days of the application being lodged.

The Canberra Liberals welcomed the payment, but Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said more immediate support for businesses and people navigating grant application processes was needed.

An email from Ms Lee and Shadow Business Minister Leanne Castley sent yesterday (25 August) to Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr and Business Minister Tara Cheyne said the wait time for support was too long for businesses suffering now.

“I implore you to accelerate the implementation of these supports and provide clear information as to how eligible businesses can access them,” the email said.

“Businesses, business owners and staff are hurting, and they need timely support.

“The business community [also] needs greater certainty as to what they can do to implement safety protocols to allow some businesses to re-commence trading (eg click n collect and contactless delivery operations for non-food businesses) and what the transition out of lockdown will look like.”

READ ALSO Increased financial support flagged for business as lockdown to drag on

Speaking at yesterday’s COVID briefing, Mr Barr said that the government was deploying additional resources to process the number of business grant applications coming through but that the risk of fraud also needed to be balanced.

“The sort of behaviours that have been occurring across Australia is fraudsters scrapping ABN numbers and seeking to link that ABN to their own bank account.

“We need to put in place a range of measures to protect against fraud as the government’s intent is that the money goes to businesses in need and not to scammers.

“That is why we are requiring a [detailed] level of information from businesses and why we will be cross-checking, why we will be requiring businesses to keep information for two years, why we will be auditing, and why anyone who does the wrong thing will find themselves in significant trouble.”

But the package has been criticised as too little by struggling businesses.

General Manager of Thor’s Hammer, Thor Diesendorf, said his furniture business was losing $100,000 a week due to the lockdown and the one-off payment was not enough after the business was forced to send 20 staff members home a fortnight ago.

“Three weeks of lockdown on these terms will tip some good businesses over the edge,” he said.

“We have all been aware that an outbreak was likely to occur at some stage in the ACT, and I have been doing my best to put funds aside. However, they will not last long under the strict lockdown that we are currently under.

“There has been plenty of time for the ACT Government to prepare and I am surprised at the meagre help offered to businesses. We need help that is scaled in regard to the size of the business.”

The program is expected to deliver $75 million in support, split equally between the ACT and Commonwealth governments.

Businesses can apply until 7 October 2021 and will not have to submit individual applications for each week. Payments will be made in a lump sum.

Businesses can apply for the grant through the online ACT Government’s Business hub.

The Canberra Business Advice and Support Service is also available for any local business owners seeking free, specialised advice on their circumstances.

More information on other supports available for businesses can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

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