Opinion by CHRISTINE FORSTER
Sydney is reeling from the spread of coronavirus and it’s time the Lord Mayor put her money where her mouth is to assist the small businesses that may not survive the crisis.
The City of Sydney currently has more than $670 million in the bank and yet not one cent of cash has been earmarked to assist those who have been and will be the most severely impacted by coronavirus. What council needs to do now is what the other levels of government are doing: make stimulus payments to help our small businesses survive this period of financial stress.
Extraordinary General Meeting called
To achieve that, I’ve this week called on the Lord Mayor to convene an extraordinary general meeting to vote on my resolution that council must provide immediate cash assistance to local small businesses. I’m also asking for that cash assistance to extend into next year.
The City of Sydney local government area is the engine room of New South Wales. It is a $130 billion per year economy which accounts for nearly 22% of the state’s entire output and around 7% of national GDP.
That contribution is driven by our significant financial services, tourism and education sectors, but nearly 84% of the businesses that exist in Sydney are small ones, employing less than 20 people. Those businesses are estimated to contribute nearly a quarter of our economic output, or more than $30 billion each year, and many of them rely on the custom of people who walk past their premises every day.
It is those businesses who are really struggling in these unimagined times. Anyone who regularly spends time in the CBD or our inner-city suburbs can see that the numbers of people walking the streets, visiting the shops and restaurants and gathering in our public spaces are well down on usual. People are heeding government advice to be cautious and exercise social distancing.
Meanwhile, the bans on large gatherings have hit the cultural and sports scenes and the less visible business events sector, which alone adds more than $10 billion to our economy each year.
In response, the federal government has done the right thing, acting quickly to unveil a $17.6 billion stimulus package aimed at supporting business investment and providing cash flow assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises. In addition, the federal government will make cash stimulus payments directly to households most in need.
The state government has also stepped in with tangible support, announcing a $2.3 billion package of measures, including payroll tax concessions targeting small businesses, as well as additional health and infrastructure spending.
Concrete actions needed
And yet in the midst of the unfolding health and economic crisis Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s response contained not one concrete action to provide genuine assistance to the businesses which are suffering most. Instead, she has asked the city’s chief executive officer to host information sessions and investigate “ways to communicate to business the option they have to enter into short-term deferred payment plans for rates and other Council expenses.”
The CEO will also be busy investigating “other opportunities to assist businesses across the city, such as waiving fees and charges.”
Under my resolution these fees and charges, including the slug on outdoor dining, and all the other red tape that our small businesses get wound up in while doing business with the city, would be waived right now. If not, while council investigates, small businesses will fail.
To help prevent that, my plan is to make funds equal to 75% of our remaining operational contingency for this year – more than $3 million – available right now as fast-tracked small business stimulus grants. Under my plan council would also allocate another $10 million in the 2020-21 financial year for the small business stimulus grants.
Council can afford these contributions and a small grant, received in a timely fashion, could mean the difference between survival or otherwise for many businesses which might struggle to pay their energy or water bills in coming months. Now more than ever, Sydney’s small businesses don’t need investigations, they need action.
Christine Forster is a Liberal councillor in the City of Sydney.