City of Melbourne calls for financial help for businesses

City of Melbourne calls for financial help for businesses
Brendan Rees

The City of Melbourne will call on the state and federal government to throw money at businesses as the impacts of the Omicron outbreak continue to bite.

At their Future Melbourne Committee meeting on February 1, councillors endorsed a motion to lobby both levels of government to install:

  • a third serving of the successful Melbourne Money scheme, which has injected $60 million into city cafes, bars and restaurants; 
  • an additional round of hotel vouchers to support stays in the CBD; 
  • free public transport for major events such as Moomba, which will return to the city in March; and 
  • the removal of the work from home advice, and a return of public servants to the CBD, as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said a recent survey by the council said business confidence was waning, particularly the city’s hospitality and retail sector. 

The survey found 74 per cent of city business owners were “barely surviving or are under intense distress,” while 53 per cent weren’t confident they could remain open for more than three months. 

“We know Melbourne’s business owners are incredibly resilient, but the Omicron outbreak is having a significant impact as people isolate or understandably take it upon themselves to limit their movements,” Cr Capp said

“It’s clear the economic impacts of the Omicron variant are similar to those felt during lockdowns; however, our business owners aren’t currently receiving financial support.”

“We need the state and federal governments to urgently introduce initiatives and commit to ensure Melbourne businesses can weather the impacts of COVID-19, as we live with the virus in our community.”

Speaking with traders, Cr Capp said while Melbourne Money schemes had been “incredibly successful” in boosting visitation and spending at businesses after lockdowns, another serving was needed to resurge the city.

City activation portfolio lead Cr Roshena Campbell said returning workers to offices was critical and the “state government must show leadership by bringing public servants back as soon as it’s safe.”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said consumer confidence was at “an all-time-low.”

“We’re seeing equally low levels of foot traffic through our major shopping destinations,” he said. “The hopes of struggling businesses who were banking on a prosperous holiday sales period have been dashed.”

“Unlike in 2020 and 2021, businesses are navigating these challenges with little to no support from government. There’s no JobKeeper, no JobSaver and there is little in the way of cash grants to help businesses pay the bills during this unprecedented downturn.” •

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