Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged an expansion to the previously announced business support measures, given the extension of the lockdown to 2 September.
Many businesses across various sectors, including construction and non-essential retail, now face the prospect of being unable to operate at all or with extremely diminished turnover until at least early September.
Businesses with employees are now eligible for up to $10,000 in grants, and businesses without employees are eligible for up to $4,000.
Businesses must demonstrate a decline in turnover of 30 per cent or more as a result of the COVID-19 health restrictions.
The scheme was originally set at $3,000 for employing businesses and $1,000 for non-employing businesses.
While the business support packages will be delivered on a 50/50 basis between the Commonwealth and the ACT Governments, the Territory will administer the program.
This comes alongside an overarching ACT Government small business scheme under which eligible small businesses can apply to receive credits for payroll tax, utility charges, rates and other selected fees and charges up to a maximum of $10,000 per operator.
Several existing waivers on licence fees also exist.
Mr Barr did note that options such as click and collect delivery and online ordering are helping businesses continue to operate in a COVID-safe manner.
Businesses are also required to ensure that anyone who does enter the business gets what they need and departs as quickly as possible. Mr Barr acknowledged that businesses are currently being required to do a lot of the hard work when it comes to moving people on and promised increased support from ACT Policing in this regard.
In response to the increased support, Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt said it would be welcomed by businesses, many of whom had been unsure how to cope with an extra two weeks of lockdown.
“It’s essentially what business would have been hoping for – a tripling of the lockdown has seen a tripling of the payment.”
However, he made it clear that today’s situation is vastly different from 2020 and that more support would be required to keep many businesses afloat.
“There’s no income coming through the door. There’s no JobKeeper flowing to the businesses and then to the employees, and while businesses are grateful that employees can access support payments, these don’t come through the business at all.
“There are also no cash-boost payments coming through, so many businesses are incurring the usual running costs, or a percentage of them, with no sales and no income,” he explained.
While Mr Catt said business supports the lockdown and understands its need, he reiterated that the current situation is approaching critical level and that cash flows to businesses’ bottom line are necessary.
“The next question is how quickly these payments can be made.”
He urged business owners and operators to be aware of the specific fee waivers and fee reductions available to them and to check as soon as possible to find out what they are eligible for.
Specific support packages also exist for the particularly hard-hit local tourism industry, including rebates of up to $75,000 on water and sewerage charges and $15,000 recovery payments for small tourism operators.
Mr Catt said the logical next step in extending support to businesses would be reinstating the commercial tenancies agreement from 2020 which saw clear government directions put in place around how landlords should work with their tenants.
He further flagged the need for ongoing support to sectors that will continue to face issues after the lockdown, especially hotels and tourism providers.
Lastly, Mr Catt urged business owners to contact the Canberra Business Chamber to let them know what is needed.
“Tell us and we pass it on to government so they can have a really clear picture of the actual economic impact of the lockdown,” he said.
Businesses can register their interest in the grants and the COVID-19 Business Hardship Scheme on the Business Hub website.