Business help amid “devastating” impact of lockdown

By David Schout and Sean Car

CBD businesses will benefit from a $20 million lifeline after the state government declared local businesses had been “uniquely hit” by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

In announcing further grants, the government’s CBD Business Support Fund aims to help businesses faced with a “large and sustained shock to their trading environments”.

The announcement came after a City of Melbourne survey before the second lockdown revealed around 15 per cent of businesses were either unsure of their futures or would close permanently as a result of the pandemic. 

More than 80,000 businesses within metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire would be eligible for a new $5000 grant.

But small and medium businesses within the CBD, including Docklands and Southbank, were set to see even greater support.

Details of the grants were yet to emerge at the time of publishing, but Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said those in the CBD stood to benefit more from the package. 

“There will be particular amounts that are applicable if you’re one kind of business, and higher grants if you’re a different type of business … then a different amount again if you are in that category and in the CBD,” he said at the announcement. 

A usually vibrant central Melbourne was again rendered desolate after stage three restrictions were re-imposed on July 9.

Pedestrian activity was down 81 per cent compared with this time last year. 

Mr Pakula said the government was aware of the distinct problems faced by local business owners. 

“The CBD has in some respects been uniquely hit by the fact that stay-at-home directives have particularly kept people away,” he said.

“And the absence of foot traffic in the CBD has meant many businesses in the city, and Docklands and Southbank, have been particularly affected by the restrictions that have been imposed on Victorians.”

The government said it would especially look to assist tourism operators and businesses associated with the night-time economy.

Mr Pakula said the latter had “suffered greatly”.

“It is a very important part, not just of Victoria’s economy, but of Melbourne’s culture. It is one of the things that has set Melbourne apart over many years; our bars, our restaurants, our laneways, our theatre district.

“And it’s why we’re providing specific support to the CBD because we want to see all of those businesses, or at least as many of them as possible, though to the other side. They’re going to be a crucial part of returning us to the Melbourne we love … we want to see those businesses survive. There are some critical differences, and some critical responses needed, in particular for that night-time economy in the Melbourne CBD.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, the council’s finance chair, said the package was “much-needed”, but acknowledged some businesses were on a knife’s edge during the second lockdown period. 

“Our city has taken a massive hit,” Cr Wood said.

“The biggest of any capital city. We need bold thinking and ideas to get us through. Otherwise recovery will take years. My only worry is that this Victorian Government business support won’t be enough to see many struggling businesses through the next six weeks after impacts since March. Any help is absolutely welcome though.”

Cr Wood said the council would also issue temporary free parking permits to food premises to help them deliver takeaway meals during lockdown. The parking permits will be available from July 21 and will apply until further notice.

“We want to support restaurants and cafes to set up their own home delivery services,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said. 

“Each business will be eligible for two passes so they can park for free in areas with green signs close to their business or near their customer’s delivery address where that address is within the City of Melbourne,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said while she was obviously pleased many Melburnians were adhering to stay-at-home measures, the huge dip in CBD foot traffic had a “devastating impact” on businesses.  

“We usually have about 950,000 people coming into the city every day, [but] with people listening and complying with the restrictions it means that we don’t have those hundreds and thousands of people coming in to support our local retailers and hospitality.”

On July 21, the federal government announced that it would be extending its JobKeeper program from September until March, but that fortnightly amounts would be scaled back to $1200 a fortnight. A payment of $750 will be provided to those working less than 20 hours per week. Businesses will also be required to report turnover quarterly to prove eligibility. 

The JobSeeker unemployment benefit will also change, with the $550 coronavirus supplement cut to $250 through until the end of 2020.

City of Melbourne Business Concierge Hotline: 9658 9658

Lord Mayor launches new advisory board

The Bringing Melbourne Back Better advisory board was established by Lord Mayor Sally Capp last month to look at ways of reactivating the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In its first meeting held in mid-July, the board, which includes the likes of trucking magnate Lindsay Fox and National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) director Tony Ellwood, highlighted three key actions in its first meeting: 

Encouraging more cultural activity in key city parks and open spaces by hosting live performances and partnering with nearby local bricks-and-mortar businesses to expand their hospitality and retail offer outside;

Developing a “headquarters strategy” to target national and international companies to establish their head offices in Melbourne; and

Supporting the establishment of arts and creative hubs in vacant city office space. 

It had been previously reported by some media outlets that the board would also be exploring the prospect of converting vacant commercial office space into housing, as well as installing projections onto city buildings during evenings. 

But Lord Mayor Sally Capp said one idea discussed at the first meeting explored how local cafes, restaurants, bars and retail stores could benefit from a program of live performances held at inner-city public spaces.

She added that the headquarters strategy would help attract high-wage jobs back to Melbourne’s CBD, establishing arts and creative hubs throughout vacant commercial office and retail spaces would help attract more people into the city, at an appropriate time after restrictions had eased.

“The feedback from the Advisory Board was that many arts and creative organisations have always wanted to be based in the CBD but the cost of rent was prohibitive previously,” the Lord Mayor said.
“By encouraging these artists and arts organisations and commercial landlords to work together to establish empty spaces will be invigorated and our city will become more vibrant.”

“This [headquarters] strategy will examine the best ways to encourage new global businesses to establish their headquarters in Melbourne’s CBD, which will help support our many cafes, restaurants, bars and boutique retail stores.”

The Lord Mayor said the advisory board would hold weekly meetings until late August to discuss short-, medium- and long-term solutions to revive Melbourne’s economy and cultural life. 

“This is going to be a very tough period for many people in our community but I’m amazed at what can be achieved when Melburnians work together,” she said •

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