Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood AM has revealed his policy to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) get back to business as the City eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If elected, I will immediately commit an additional $20 million from the city’s budget to a flagship SME Care Package, bringing total support for business to $80 million,” Arron said.
“It’s often said that small business is the backbone of our economy, and they are, so we should be pulling out all the stops to help them survive through the ramifications of this COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not talking about six months down the track; I’m talking about what they need now, today. And what they need is cash in their tills to get through. I am all about action, not more ineffective words.”
Arron said the SME Care Package includes relief on street trading fees as well as a rate freeze.
“I fought hard for the rate freeze this financial year – and I can tell you that not all councillors supported that initially – and I will go one further by extending the freeze on rate increases in 2021-2022 for all business and resident ratepayers,” Arron said.
“SMEs worry about cash flow and getting caught up in red tape and regulation.
“This SME Care Package will alleviate some of that over-regulation to enable SMEs to concentrate on reviving their business post-COVID-19.”
Arron said that, if elected, he would not rely on the Federal and State Governments to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to SME recovery.
“I want our small business owners in the CBD to know that we are putting them first and that their rates are going back to them when they need it most, which is now,” he said.
A flagship policy of his platform is to introduce a voucher system to encourage people back into the city and stimulate spending at hospitality and retail businesses. He said the system had been successfully implemented in Darwin and throughout the United Kingdom as part of a hospitality stimulus package.
“Darwin introduced a voucher system in early June – where residents and tourists alike registered with Council to receive digital vouchers for varying amounts and each voucher has a minimum spend requirement to use it. …/2
“In three months, the Darwin City Council says the voucher scheme resulted in every voucher dollar spent creating an additional $7 dollars of cash spend from every transaction.”
“Similarly, the UK Government introduced their scheme on 3 August and data from popular UK dining booking site OpenTable shows it drove people online to register within a week, with the 10th of August showing a ten per cent spike in booking traffic compared to the same day last year.
“This SME Care Package has real policies that are informed by what small businesses have been telling me they need, and it’s unashamedly bringing forward solutions that have proved successful elsewhere so we can get them into action quickly.”
The SME Care package will also include offering small businesses across the City access to a large digital billboard and free advertising across the City’s social media channels, with a reach of over 800,000.
Key elements of the package are:
· Develop a program to meet with peak bodies to ensure the City of Melbourne represents small business operators with the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Hoteliers Association and precinct-based liquor licensing forums to map a COVID-safe return to businesses across all industries and sectors.
· Develop a regular forum between the City of Melbourne and licensees, restaurateurs and venue operators to seek answers to their greatest challenges, not just review liquor licensing issues.
· Guarantee $20 million in support grants over the next two years direct to SMEs in the City of Melbourne to support cashflow for SMEs.
· Freeze rates for CBD SMEs to stimulate recovery.
· Suspend street trading fees to support vibrancy in the City.
· Free advertising for small businesses across the City of Melbourne’s social media channels with a reach of over 800,000 and a large digital billboard to support the creative industry and small business.
· Introduce voucher system based on UK model.
Arron said the City of Melbourne voucher system and the package of measures to bring Melbournians and regional Victorians back into the City needed to be teamed with a response to the concerns of business owners that had been ignored prior to COVID-19.
“As a small business owner, I understand the concerns about non-COVID-19 issues such as graffiti and safety and I’m committed to addressing them because it is part of what is worrying small business about their ability to attract customers upon reopening,” he said.
Deputy Lord Mayoral candidate and digital marketer Lisa Teh said the digital transformation driven by the COVID-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities and this move would bring new audiences to struggling businesses.
“Melbourne is a city that has a wealth of creative talent and we are looking forward to being able to harness that by offering a platform of free advertising to reach new customers,” she said.