The engine room of the State and the national economies, small business has been hit hard by the Covid-19 lock down. Many thousands of sole traders, small and medium sized businesses are struggling to stay in business and keep staff employed. The Federal Government Jobkeeper program has been instrumental to retain some employees as the required restrictions came into force.
With the Jobkeeper program sustained through to September, businesses need to be proactive and develop a clear and comprehensive plan to continue to generate a level of revenue, modify business models where possible, and maintain connection with staff so that they can ramp up quickly as restrictions are eased.
The New South Wales Minister responsible for small business, The Hon Damien Tudehope MLC, has been actively working to engage, support and plan for ways and means for this crucial sector to not simply recover from the current COVID challenges but to bounce back better.
The Minister stressed that Covid-19 is still first and foremost a health crisis and that the Premier is very mindful of the urgency for the economy to get cracking again by lifting restrictions carefully to avoid a second wave of Covid-19 leading to another lock down. This means every business must take responsibility for enforcing social distancing and other work safe practices.
There has been an ongoing debate around retail and commercial leases and it is important that tenants and landlords can reach agreement on any changes to the lease, as set out by the National Code of Conduct put in place by the Federal Government. To help negotiate and reach agreement, Service NSW can provide valuable information and assistance to assist all parties reach agreement, via its online portal for re-negotiating leases.
Some 25,000 of the $10,000 State Government grants provided to assist businesses with a drop in turnover of 75 per cent compared to the same period last year, have been processed and in the hands of business. With discussion continuing with Treasury to potentially reassess the eligibility criteria of these grants so that more businesses can access these urgently needed funds to pay bills like electricity.
The driving force behind this grant program, and other government measures, is the principle to not merely returning to the norm, but look to ways to ensure all businesses can bounce back better in a Covid safe environment.
The relationship between small business and local government is a critical one and cross collaboration together with businesses getting good advice through an accountant, visiting Service NSW or getting up to date information and advice through Business Connect means that local economies can be revitalized as soon as possible.
What things will look like post-Covid is difficult o predict although Minister Tudehope predicts a new look economy with the move to more flexible hours driving the new night time economy, where retail, hospitality and many services open late to accommodate the new workplace model. The Minister’s motto of ‘getting government out of the way and letting businesses make their own decisions on what is best for their business’ is an encouraging force forging the path forward.
There is clear evidence of positive changes in government – business relations, with government departments becoming much more collaborative and customer service focused. This should auger well for economic recovery now and business going forward, through more regular, positive interactions between business and government.
The Sydney Business Chamber held an online forum with The Hon Damien Tudehope MLC, Minister for Finance and Small Business on 20 May 2020.