By Jeremy Sollars
It’s often said that small business is the ‘engine-room’ of the economy and perhaps nowhere is that more true at this time of COVID-19 than here in regional Australia – and on the Southern Downs and Granite Belt.
Across the Warwick and Stanthorpe regions family-owned and operated businesses have been ever-grateful for the support of loyal customers in recent times, and they need that support to continue more than ever.
Assistance in the form of the Federal Government’s JobKeeper payments have in some cases been the difference between keeping the doors open and otherwise, but as much an anything customer support has given our small business owners the motivational impetus to keep going as much as a financial one.
One example – out of the too many to name – is Rosie Favero, who with husband Mark owns the Bellevue Café on Warwick’s Palmerin Street, and the Pickle & Must Deli in Rose City Shoppingworld.
The Bellevue – an iconic local café for decades, which the Faveros have operated for the past nine years – is re-opening today, Thursday 25 June and Rosie and her staff couldn’t be more thrilled.
All up between the two businesses the Faveros would in ‘normal’ times employ 17 locals but since the beginning of April it’s been a case of operating with a reduced workforce while adjusting to COVID-19 life, including takeaways.
But like many in our local small business sector COVID-19 has had some unexpected benefits, perhaps not many but nonetheless welcome at least on one level.
Rosie, a mum of two, has found more time to spend with her children and she’s caught up on “book-work”, always a time-consuming task for family businesses.
But equally beneficial has been the opportunity to do some renovations, including new booths at the Bellevue which will welcome diners back from today.
“For us JobKeeper has certainly been the difference between keeping the doors open and not, but next to that the biggest thing has been the wonderful support we’ve had from the community,” Rosie said this week.
“We’ve had our regulars in at Pickle & Must but we’ve also had a lot of people who’ve gone out of their way to just come and buy a coffee, and saying it’s just to help us out.
“From a moral support point of view that’s been great, it’s not something you can measure but when you know people are behind you and are supporting you it makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning.
“But back when all this started I don’t think we really looked seriously at having to close.
“You can’t think like that, you won’t end up in a nice place.”
Rosie says her overall trade has been “down probably 60 to 70 per cent” since the start of April and support from a business advice perspective from her accountant has been invaluable, as well as navigating through the maze of COVID-19 government assistance.
“People have been dying to know when the Bellevue will re-open and they can get back inside and we’ll be welcoming everyone,” she said.
“Not having Jumpers and Jazz this year is something we’re definitely going to feel the impact of but we’re hopeful the strong support we’ve had will continue.
“More than anything I just want to thank our staff from the bottom of my heart.
“They’ve been a tremendous support and it’s also been a way of getting ideas for things we can do, just talking to the team.”
Budget on the way…
The Southern Downs Regional Council’s 2020-2021 budget is expected to be formally adopted and publicly released in mid-August, with Mayor Vic Pennisi saying councillors and staff are still working through submissions made by the public on the draft budget put out for consultation earlier in June.
The original anticipated date for the budget’s adoption was next Tuesday 30 June – which could still be the case – but Queensland councils have until the end of August to finalise their new financial year budgets each year.
Cr Pennisi this week told the Free Times the finalised budget would contain further measures to address the impacts of COVID-19 on ratepayers and the region’s business community, saying he is “acutely aware” of many businesses continuing to do it tough, and that it will be “the softest budget we can introduce” to account for those effects.
The council in mid-May announced a range of measures specifically targeted to assist business and community groups navigating through COVID-19.
Those measures including freezing or reducing a variety of council fees and charges and collectively will leave a revenue deficit of close to $800,000.
A council statement in May outlined the measures which included –
• Supporting food businesses to the value of $115k by waiving the annual licensing fees that are due now for the 2020/21 year. Council has issued renewal notices and advised those existing customers that no fee will be applied for this year.
• Supporting those who are suffering financial hardship by waiving interest on overdue rates. This is a forfeiture of Council revenue to the value of approximately $12.5k per month.
• Extending the discount period to the end of the (2019-2020) financial year for the recent water levies. Although only a matter of days, this extension aligns the dates with other extended timeframes.
• Moratorium on the application of the Invasive Pest Scheme levy for the 2020/21 year amounts to a loss of finances for Council of approximately $125k.
• Supporting rental accommodation and caravan park operators by waiving their annual licence fees to the value of approximately $70k.
• Encouraging development by reducing assessment fees by 50% and forging projected revenue. This applies to new applications, extensions to existing applications and operational works applications fees for 2020/21.
• Encouraging future events post COVID-19 by waiving temporary entertainment event permit fees, which will save groups between $191 to $1,325 per event.
• Refocusing funds allocated to Community Grants Program to support community groups impacted by COVID.
“The provision of the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Package has meant that Council has chosen to waive (forego) some revenue streams in the pursuit of providing financial relief and supporting the community,” a council spokeswoman said in May.
“The package also supports ratepayers and businesses by extending payment terms and suspending debt and fees which would normally be applied.
“For businesses in particularly hard-hit industries, such as tourism, Council has chosen to forgo revenue that would have been derived from the application of certain fees or charges for a twelve month period so as not to further burden the community.”
Cr Pennisi said the new budget will contain a “second round” of measures with one focus being on pedestal charges for premises – both commercial and community-run – with multiple toilets, saying it’s one set of charges which adds up “significantly” for many.
Councillors were expected at this week’s June monthly meeting to adopt overall fees and charges for 2020-2021 as a requirement of the State Government, but the mayor said these could – and in some cases will – be amended when the final budget is adopted.
But the mayor said an earlier announcement that the 2020-2021 budget would contain a zero rates rise and half-yearly rates bills would be carried through.
“As far as the full impact (of COVID-19) on our region and on the business community as a whole it’s a mixed bag,” Cr Pennisi said this week.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of hard data at this stage on things like employment figures, that national data isn’t currently broken down region by region or town by town.
“We don’t have detailed stats on things like JobKeeper and JobSeeker and we know there are hidden statistics on things like under-employment.
“But we have anecdotal evidence, lots of it, and we know obviously many businesses have taken a hit big time, a lot of them in the retail and the tourism and hospitality sectors and others.
“Both myself and the councillors and council staff – particularly in our Economic Development Unit – we’ve been meeting with business owners and operators over the last couple of months.
“There’s a whole range of messages we’ve been getting – including some businesses who are actually doing OK and a few who’ve said business has actually improved which has been interesting.
“Some restrictions have been eased as we know and while that’s been great for some of the hospitality businesses they haven’t necessarily had a lot of lead-in time to make arrangements to take advantage of those changes.
“And there’s a lot of red tape, but it’s also necessary, to go along with that.
“But look, there are just some amazing stories out there of businesses who’ve adapted to this and who adapted early, or they’ve consolidated their operations or they’ve taken the opportunity to do renovations.
“We’ve also got people, farmers in our region who’ve gone off to work in the mines or they’re stacking shelves at the supermarket part-time, just doing whatever they have to do to get through this.
“I’m incredibly proud of the people in this region for the way they’ve responded in this period and we will get through it, I have total confidence in that.
“As a council we are acutely aware of what so many people have been dealing with and will continue to deal with and that’s going to be reflected in the budget we hand down.
“In all reality the budget is likely to be delayed by a fortnight, we have a lot of submissions to still work through and close off on, and some of those relate to financial hardship.
“We want to look at all of those cases in detail and that’s going to take us a little bit longer if we’re going to get it right.”
Cr Pennisi said the Economic Development Unit is currently made up of six staff, with one vacancy current and under recruitment.
“Those officers and that unit play a critical role in terms of working with business and applying for things like grant funding from higher levels of government,” Cr Pennisi said.
“We’ve been operating ‘recovery hubs’ at the Warwick Town Hall and at the Stanthorpe Civic Centre for business people to meet with council staff and councillors.
“But we realise time is a factor for everyone in business and in a lot of cases people have called and spoken to me and I’ve passed their details on (to the staff).
“We just think it’s important to get direct feedback from the business community as to how they’re travelling and what they see as important things for us to be doing as a council.
“From a wider economic perspective, our economic ‘footprint’ as a region hasn’t changed – our transport and logistics industries are operating as normal and despite the drought we still have the ability to produce food 12 months of the year.
Queensland’s ‘Roadmap To Recovery’…
The Queensland border appears set to re-open on Friday 10 July, but Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk continues to play a decidedly savvy political game – acutely aware there is a State election in October – and has been careful to make her support for a 10 July border opening heavily qualified and subject to review, including the status of any new COVID-19 outbreaks interstate, or indeed in the Sunshine State.
‘Stage 3’ COVID-19 easing of restrictions state-wide as outlined the ‘Roadmap To Recovery’ released by the Premier back in May and due to also take effect from Friday 10 July are (maximum of 100 people permitted for) –
• gatherings in public spaces and homes
• dining in: restaurants, cafés, pubs, registered and licensed clubs, RSL clubs, food courts and hotels
• indoor cinemas
• places of worship and religious ceremonies
• museums, art galleries and historic sites
• pools and community sports clubs
• community sport
• gyms, health clubs and yoga studios
• outdoor amusement parks, zoos and arcades
• concert venues, theatres, arenas, auditoriums and stadiums
• saunas and bathhouses
• open homes and auctions
• casinos, gaming and gambling venues
• pubs, registered and licensed clubs, RSL clubs and hotels nightclubs
• beauty therapy, tanning, nail salons and spas, tattoo parlours and non-therapeutic massage parlours
• hiking, camping and other recreational activities in national and state parks.
Business owners are being advised to continue preparing for continuity after JobKeeper support ends, expected to be at the end of September.
Key questions might include –
• What is my cash-flow situation like now and what will it be like after stimulus ends?
• Will my revenue streams recover and are there opportunities for new streams?
• Can I afford to keep staff on post-JobKeeper?
• Can I meet deferred payments (rent, mortgage)?
• Do I have the money to pay tax when it falls due?
• Do I have enough money to meet the next superannuation payment?
• Do I want to hang on or have I lost my passion for the business?
• Are my personal assets (personal savings, house, car) at risk?
A wide variety of government support measures remain in place for business, including the Queensland Government’s ‘10K Small Business Adaptation Grants”.
A second round of these grants will open for applications next Wednesday 1 July, with some conditions, including –
• Successful applicants from round 1 of the program cannot apply for further funding under round 2.
• Businesses who applied in the first round but have not heard back yet, or who were unsuccessful, can reapply in this round.
• The available grant amount is a minimum of $2,000 and up to maximum of $10,000 per eligible small or micro business.
• All applications must be completed online, from 1 July 2020 when the grants open
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the grants are “designed to help more small businesses survive and maintain and grow their staffing levels”.
“Round one of the Small Business grants received an overwhelming response.
“In the second round, we are prioritising regional areas and allocating half of the funding to support small businesses in regional Queensland.”
• For more information visit www.business.qld.gov.au
• A good starting point for information about other government support for business and for individuals is the Southern Downs Regional Council’s website – at www.sdrc.qld.gov.au
• To speak with the council’s Economic Development Unit and for appointments call the SDRC on 1300 697 372
Further signs of economic recovery are expected to become evident as the ‘Stage 3’ Roadmap To Recovery rolls out, expected from Friday 10 July.
One example is the food court in Rose City Shoppingworld in Warwick, with those businesses having been eerily silent and shuttered in recent times.
Rose City Shoppingworld spokeswoman Louise de Lissa said the food court is expected to re-open on Friday 10 July “for 100 people in line with COVID-19 Government Health Regulations”.
“One hundred people will be able to dine in the Foodcourt which is great news for businesses inside the centre,” Louise said this week.
“Customers can finally be allowed to sit and dine at Rose City Shoppingworld after months of restrictions.
“It’s been a hard time for all stores in the shopping centre due to the COVID-19 restrictions that were placed on shopping centres.
“The Foodcourt stores however did face extraordinary circumstances in relation to food and beverage service and most stores remained open for the majority of the COVID time.
“It will be a relief for them to be able to serve more customers now with health and social distancing measures in place.
“To celebrate the reopening, the centre is implementing a Loyalty Card to all customers.
“Simply collect your card from a participating store or from the Entry Booth and start earning.
“Collect a stamp for every $10 spent at stores offering food throughout the centre, collect 6 stamps and then go in the draw to win a $100 Gift Card and tickets to the movies.
“There’s over $2000 in prizes to be redeemed. (T’s and C’s apply) and the Loyalty Card is valid from Wednesday 1 July to Friday 31 July.
“Participating stores include Donut King, Subway, The Carvery PTY LTD, Red Rooster, Warwick Sushi, Honeydew Café, Country Bourne Bakery, Pickle and Must Deli Go Vita and The Juice Bar.”
July is ‘Small Business Month’…
Queensland Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland (CCIQ) CEO, Stephen Tait said there are many ways to support small businesses.
““Small businesses are vital to Queensland’s economy, it’s essential we all look at ways to support them for the month of July and beyond,” he said.
Queensland Minister for Employment and Small Business Shannon Fentiman said that “during July, helping our small business community recover and bounce back stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic is more important than ever.”
“We need to support our small businesses,” Ms Fentiman said.
“With so many of them having to change the way they do business during COVID-19, we need to help them to stay open, recover and support more local jobs.”
Warwick Chamber of Commerce President Tracy Dobie said the Chamber is “proud to be partnering with the CCIQ and other Chambers through the #SupportSmall and the #LocalAsQld campaigns”.
“With the cancellation of Jumpers & Jazz in July 2020 due to ongoing social distancing restrictions, the Warwick Chamber has had discussions with representatives of the JJJ Festival Committee and Southern Downs Regional Council on ways to keep business and community spirits high during July,” Ms Dobie said this week.
“Long running JJJ Festival volunteer Clare Cotton has been working with Chamber to roll out the “Messages of Hope and Love” Shop Local promotion.”
“A few of my friends have been decorating trees in our gardens and sharing it between ourselves – we’re calling it ‘spreading messages of love and hope’,” Clare said.
Ms Dobie said the Warwick Chamber of Commerce “is aware that the JJJ Festival contributes to a range of economic outcomes, with an estimated average daily spend of $108 per visitor per day, over the 10-day festival”.
“COVID-19 restrictions have forced the cancellation of the 2020 Festival, and this will have a major impact on the local business community.
However, thanks to generous sponsorship from Wickham Freight Lines, Steeles Bakery, Wickham Farms, SDRC, Warwick Credit Union and BEST Employment, Chamber will be offering the opportunity for 20 lucky local shoppers to win a $200 voucher and one voucher of $1000 to be spent at their favourite local shop or service, during July.
“Entering the #SupportSmall promotion is easy.
“All you need to do is find a participating business in Warwick by looking for the #SupportSmall “Messages of Love & Hope’ posters, complete the entry form and tell us what it is that you love about our local business community.”
“The ‘Messages of Love & Hope’ will be used to decorate the CBD trees during the last two weeks of July.”
For more information contact the Warwick Chamber of Commerce at – firstname.lastname@example.org