By David Schout
Small businesses based in the CBD, Docklands and Southbank will benefit from grants ranging $5000 to $15,000 in the latest round of state government support for those adversely affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The $20 million package will be divided into two, with $10 million dedicated to small hospitality operators and the other $10 million for what has been termed “bricks and mortar” traders.
Business owners in postcodes 3000 (Melbourne), 3005 and 3008 (Docklands), and 3006 (Southbank) will be eligible under the package, which until now had contained few details since the July announcement.
In that announcement the government acknowledged that central-Melbourne businesses had faced “an even larger and sustained shock to their trading environments” than other Victorian businesses since the onset of stage 3 and 4 stay-at-home directives.
The $5000 grant is available for hospitality venues with a food service capacity of 11 to 100 seats, and all others small businesses that employ up to 50 full-time equivalent staff.
They must also be a participant in the federal government’s JobKeeper payment scheme.
The larger $15,000 grant is available for hospitality venues with a food service capacity of 101 seats or more.
Non-employing sole traders, political organisations, fundraising groups and government departments were ineligible, along with venues seating 10 or less.
Grants for larger hospitality businesses within the inner-city (with a payroll of more than $3 million but less than $10 million) are eligible for assistance under a separate grant.
The allocations are part of the state government’s wider business support package, worth more than half a billion dollars.
In July, Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said the government was well aware of the distinct problems faced by local business owners.
“[Central Melbourne] 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 particular affected by the restrictions that have been imposed on Victorians.”
Mr Pakula said Melbourne’s famous nighttime economy 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 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
The council’s chair for small business, retail and hospitality Susan Riley said downturn in foot traffic was having a huge impact on traders.
“Up to 90 per cent fewer people have been coming into the city, which has affected businesses like our retailers, galleries, gyms, dance studios, homewares stores and more,” she said.
“The new grants will support many of our bricks and mortar businesses that have a thriving presence in popular precincts and will welcome customers back once restrictions ease.”
New research revealed in August showed that the City of Melbourne’s economy was worth $104 billion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said early data from the Census of Land Use and Employment (CLUE) for 2019 showed Melbourne reached a record $104 billion Gross Local Product (GLP) after passing the milestone $100.3 billion GLP for the first time in 2018.
“When Melbourne is strong we know that Victoria is strong. Before COVID-19 hit, our local economy was bigger than Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT combined.”
“Our central city economy is usually home to almost 500,000 jobs. These jobs are substantially from professional workers across business services, professional services and research institutes.”
“People are drawn to the city economy, with the CBD alone supplying more than 240,000 jobs.”
The Lord Mayor welcomed the $20 million in targeted support for CBD businesses announced by the State Government but said further stimulus will be needed in the coming months to kick-start Melbourne’s recovery •