Business support grants have been topped up under a new announcement from the ACT and Commonwealth governments, with eligible businesses receiving up to $30,000 extra.
Businesses that applied for the ACT COVID-19 Business Support Grant will be given extension payments of $10,000 if they employ staff and $3750 if they do not.
This is on top of the $20,000 for employing businesses and $7500 for non-employing businesses which have had turnover decrease by at least 30 per cent.
One-off top-up payments will also be made for larger employing businesses, with $10,000 for businesses with a turnover between $2 million and $5 million; $20,000 for businesses with a turnover between $5 million and $10 million; and $30,000 for businesses with a turnover greater than $10 million.
Tourism, arts, events and hospitality industries will also receive additional one-off grants of between $1000 and $20,000 depending on whether they employ staff and their turnover. Around 2,000 businesses are estimated to be eligible for this additional grant.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr flagged further support for businesses at the next lockdown checkpoint in a fortnight’s time.
But the Canberra Liberals said businesses needed a clearer path forward after they were left disappointed by the lack of direction from the government “pathway” out of lockdown, announced on Tuesday (14 September).
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said a new COVID-19 Business Recovery Taskforce should be established to bring businesses leaders and community representatives from various sectors together to develop a recovery plan and provide feedback on post-COVID business measures.
“If the government is engaging with businesses every day, then their decisions do not reflect it,” Ms Lee said.
“The feedback we are getting is that decisions are being made for businesses by people who do not understand them.”
When asked whether the additional support would help struggling businesses, Ms Lee said the slow rollout of the support grants were the main problem.
Only around one in seven businesses that applied for the grants had received payment since applications opened on 26 August.
“There are significant and unacceptable delays to the processing of applications for the government’s business support,” she said.
“We are talking about businesses who closed their doors with hours’ notice and that have been unable to trade for five weeks.
“Despite submitting applications within hours of the application opening, they are yet to receive any funds.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr defended the speed of the rollout on Wednesday (15 September) saying measures needed to be put into place to protect against fraud. While his preferred support method would have been JobKeeper, that argument was lost with the Commonwealth.
“The problem is that this is one of the least efficient ways to deliver support to business,” Mr Barr said when asked if the rollout of support grants were too cumbersome.
“But it is what it is, so we are working on processing those payments as quick as we can, and we are noting to businesses that with the increased amounts, they do not need to reapply, we will automatically flow on the extra money.”
On the same day the extra support was announced, the Canberra Business Chamber said more clarity on the government’s lockdown exit strategy was needed.
CEO Graham Catt said business owners could not wait another month for the economy to reopen without “immediate access to critical financial support”.
“There has been little meaningful detail given around the thresholds for a staged move back into something that resembles business as usual for Canberra,” he said.
“This is an essential piece of the puzzle for local businesses. They need information to plan ahead, prepare a survival strategy, and put infrastructure in place to keep their business running and look after the welfare of their employees.
“Without fast access to the right level of financial support to see them through lockdown, and a clear forward plan, they are unable to make informed decisions that impact their livelihoods and their mental health.”
Mr Catt also raised concerns about the ACT lagging behind NSW and Victoria’s resumption of trading, despite having better vaccination rates, calling the discrepancy “demoralising” for Canberra businesses.
Ms Lee said while businesses understood that plans would change during a global pandemic, the government needed to be more forthcoming with its roadmap and ease restrictions in line with vaccination targets.
“Most people will understand that the public health response would be required to change if there was a huge spike in cases,” she said.
“Plans can be tweaked, but [there is no] plan at all [and] that is what people are looking for. They are looking for leadership and hope, and that is what is sorely missing.”
Businesses can find further information and apply for grants here.