In Australia, the Covid-19 lockdown has been very harsh for the business community and the general community. For the NSW and Victoria, the lockdowns have been quite severe compared to the rest of the country.
As community vaccination rates increase, the NSW & Victorian Governments are now looking at the plan out of lockdown.
Both Federal and various State governments provided Covid-19 support initiatives for businesses to survive through the lockdown.
This blog shares the business concerns and recommendations for parliamentarians to consider as we exit lockdown. Consider this a 'working document'. If you would like to add any points, please do let us know?
Recently, we participated in an NSW small business forum where both sides of the major parties shared insights and fielded questions from the attendees.
It was great to see genuine bi-partisan support to tackle such a big issue.
Based on your feedback, we submitted the following list of concerns & recommendations.
Vaccine Passports Dilemma for Restaurants/Retailers
This is naturally a hot topic at present for several reasons:
A) Businesses need a ruling from the Government as to what is acceptable. Otherwise, if a business owner decides on their own, they will likely face backlash like the restaurant Aria. Prominent food industry restaurateurs agree on a legislated 'Green Pass'.
Mr Steven Kamper agreed that there needs to be a firm ruling.
We would argue it's not so straightforward. While we appreciate the Government is trying to provide incentives for vaccine adoption, thus protecting the public and staff of the business, there are other consequences:
i) Losing customers. Approximately 10-20% of the population are hesitating to become vaccinated. These patrons may order online.
ii) However, a restaurant/café/retailer recovering from lockdown cannot afford to lose 10-20% of customers. Furthermore, they may fall into a dilemma; if the revenue is down 10-20%, they are currently not entitled to any grants or rent support and incur all the costs.
B) If we create a strong vaccine passport, we are creating a 'US vs Them' approach. And this is not healthy for society.
C) An Hybrid Approach - Allow unvaccinated patrons to able to visit outsides seating spaces at venues. When indoors, they would need to be vaccinated. – like this US example.
D) One topic which is not covered is the vaccinations of staff. Please see below
2) Staffing Shortages
Due to border restrictions and the Job Saver going directly to staff, small businesses
are finding it extremely difficult to attract staff. For some businesses, this is
even more crippling than the lockdown itself.
Furthermore, if hospitality staff need to vaccinated, then staffing is going to be even
a) Open up overseas students and temporary holiday makers once the hospital Covid-19 patient load decreases.
b) Administer Job Saver through the employer.
c) Staff need to be masked – whether vaccinated or not.
3) Re-activate Venues
Provide support for businesses that paused operation due to Covid-19 cases. Can you imagine always living with the fear of immediately shutting your business down due to Covid-19 cases? It's haunting! And the total cost is covered by the business.
The Government can support by providing:
a) Cleaning costs support for SME's, like Victoria and QLD
b) Marketing support costs to help support the venue after an infection. Customers are unlikely to return as quick. An amount as small as $1000 can be of great support in marketing.
4) Front Line Staff Training & FAQ
Since we will be living with Covid-19 and vaccine passports, front line retail staff will face the brunt of questions and even abuse from those they have to turn away. In addition, from seating arrangements to masks, guidelines change frequently. So again, the business owner needs to ensure they stay on top of the latest procedures and staff training changes.
A Government portal with faqs for businesses to share with staff. These documents/videos need to be current with guideline changes. The faqs can be created for each industry, similar to Australian Tax Office documents for industry.
5) Procedures for Shutting Down a City/Town
There appear to be different rules for shutdowns/lockdowns between regions and states. In Victoria, Bendigo, they had a few hours notice to shut down. Businesses have brought an entire inventory of items and prepared meals for the restaurant full of customers that evening. Food waste and costs are all burdened by the business.
6) Reduce Financial & Administrative Burden
SME's need to complete reporting with accountants signing off on documents. Australian businesses are blessed for being able to receive government financial support. But, at the same time, we can still look at ways to minimise business' financial and administrative burdens.
Accounting subsidised fees or an automated way to validate the data– So the small business does not incur high cost and administration in reporting.
7) Holding Large Businesses to Account
Many small consumer packaged goods are getting further push-back on payment terms, like 70-day payments from larger businesses, like distributors. We know the major retailers, like Coles and Woolworths, are making good profits during this covid-19 period, yet small businesses are hurting.
Payment terms are to be no greater than 45 days.
8) SME Recovery Loan Scheme
Some businesses have been denied access to funding from the banks due to their recent COVID19 results. It's like a catch 22, where you don't have the financial performance to access the funds but need them to help start your business again.
The Government guarantee loan scheme seems to serve businesses that are already doing well, but they are not benefiting the companies that need the help.
Be open to providing loans for small businesses with validated products or services, with business plans and advisors.
9) Extend the Job Maker program
Make it easier for employers to hire new team members in every industry, not just apprenticeships for TAFE roles. Again, this is very relevant for job creation as we come out of lockdown.
10) National Consistency in Support
Having gone through the supportive packages for QLD, NSW and VIC, I'm surprised the Federal and State leaders are not communicating more when supporting business enterprises.
It is challenging for companies who have a national presence to deal with different obligations and restrictions for each state.
These are the ten concerns and recommendations from SME enterprises to state and Federal Governments in Australia.