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What’s behind the lights?

“Open and stay open”: Slow road out for businesses

08 Sep 2020

“Open and stay open”: Slow road out for businesses Image

By David Schout

Most Southbank businesses will remain under heavy COVID-19 restrictions until late October at the earliest after the state government announced its roadmap for reopening.

Local businesses were left disappointed on September 6 after the Andrews Government said cases weren’t low enough to reopen in the short term.

Under the announcement, Southbank’s many small businesses would remain either closed or under heavy restrictions until at least October 26.

If the statewide average daily case rate remained higher than five and there were more than five cases with an unknown source over a 14-day period, however, the re-opening date would be later.

The Premier said he wanted to avoid opening and going back into lockdown, as Melbourne had already done in early July.

“The key point is to open and stay open, not to be bouncing back and forth, [with] lockdown on and off,” he said.

“That is not an answer. And when the data is so clear, when the analysis and advice is so clear, you’ve only got one choice.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said while she acknowledged the Premier’s plan, the extended period of lockdown was set to be catastrophic for many businesses, and said more support was needed.

“While the roadmap provides clarity for the staged reopening of businesses, we know these timelines will continue to have a devastating impact on businesses within the City of Melbourne, particularly hospitality and retail, many likely to shut permanently before restrictions lift,” Cr Capp said.

“I am calling for more direct financial support from the state government and more flexibility for business to reopen sooner if case numbers go down faster than anticipated.”

Deputy Lord Mayor and council’s finance chair Arron Wood was more critical of the move.

“Sadly, the only certainty today’s ‘roadmap’ delivered was the certainty we’ll lose thousands more hospitality, retail, tourism, events and a long list of other small businesses. Is anyone in a decision-making position a current or former small business owner? Staggering!” he said.

The government provided some hope, however, that once re-opened the hospitality sector could operate in a completely new way.

Mr Andrews said after discussions with Cr Capp, he was hopeful new rules could be quickly pushed through to help the struggling sector.

“I think the hospitality sector is going to look very different,” he said.

“We may close streets, we may remove parking, we may go to those dividers, we may move quite a significant amount of activity outside the venue but it will still be able to happen. I think we can make that work. There are a number of cities in the world that are doing that.”

Earlier, Cr Capp announced the city would look to adopt an “open restaurants” initiative similar to that being used in New York.

The council and state government were reportedly looking at ways to amend liquor licensing and dining permit rules to fast-track the initiative that would allow socially-distanced dining on footpaths, laneways and streets.

Mr Andrews said there were examples that showed this could work.

“If you look at some cities around the world, the kerbside car parking is gone, the footpath has been restricted, they’ll put plastic dividers between tables and they are seating more people than they could ever seat inside.”

The Premier announced that there would be further business support on top of current grants, which would be announced at some point in September.

In August, the government confirmed that small businesses in the CBD, Docklands and Southbank would benefit from grants ranging $5000 to $15,000 in the latest round of support.

The $20 million package has been 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.

The $5000 grant was 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) were eligible for assistance under a separate grant.

Foot traffic within central Melbourne has plummeted under stage four restrictions.

Recent data revealed a drop of around 90 per cent, a figure that has had a significant impact on many small businesses and concern from the council that they could remain shut forever •

City of Melbourne business concierge: 9658 9658

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