Proactive Local Actions to Solve a Global Problem – COVID 19

The Corona virus is an unprecedented international issue for human health and consequently the health of the economies they live in.

Katherine O’Regan hosted a joint webinar, now available on podcast, from the Cities Leadership Institute and Sydney Business Chamber exploring how local councils can assist small businesses survive - and once again thrive.

Federal and State governments have been injecting billions to help businesses stay open and keep people employed. Local government can also play a critical role helping local businesses by proactively pulling the many levers at their disposal.

Many Councils across New South Wales and the country, including Sydney City and Northern Beaches, have implemented measures for their local business communities. The webinar provides valuable information on how Councils can take proactive steps and do more to keep businesses running, while also preparing for the recovery phase.

NSW Chief Economist, Stephen Walters was joined by Ben Lees, Principle Adviser to the Small Business Commissioner, in leading the discussion.

Stephen Walters has been closely monitoring the economy since the beginning of the COVID 19 outbreak and said that while a few weeks ago, the Tourism and Education sectors were the focus of the negative economic impact, now the spread of the virus is affecting all sectors in the economy including financial and credit markets and therefore affecting consumer confidence.

The State of NSW is facing its first recession in 28 years with 2 quarters of negative GDP expected nationally. The share market is down 30-40 per cent. The billions of dollars in stimulus programs from State and Federal governments will help, however it is still likely that it will be at least a six month period of contraction before the recovery phase begins. The NSW unemployment rate is likely to rise from 4.6 per cent up to 8 per cent.

Stephen says local Councils can really help by bringing forward spending on maintenance programs, as they are quicker to get moving than large developments and can instantly help employment in the local community. Councils can also increase expenditure on local procurement. Infrastructure spending is also vital to build productive capacity in the longer term. He emphasised the benefits of fast tracking smaller infrastructure projects that take less time in approvals and can begin sooner.

Ben Lees worked in Britain’s Public Health sector and more recently on crisis here including the drought and bushfires.

He believes communication in all forms is absolutely vital, getting information out regularly and accurately in all areas from financial advice to mental health support. He says the Small Business Commissioner is providing many forms of assistance including free financial and business advice through a new portal titled Business Connect. His detailed presentation put the issue into three phases: React, Adapt and Build Back Better. The NSW Government concierge centre, Service NSW is working to improve the ease of doing business by helping to access grants and get permits pushed through more quickly. He believes business is resilient but needs easily accessible financial assistance and advice and access to, mental health support. It’s vital that small and medium busineses get advice early on how to deal with the downturn and make hard decisions around continuing trading or perhaps closing before running up even larger debts.

Access Ben’s presentation here, and listen to the podcast,that includes input from City of Sydney and Willoughby Councils and from Regional Development Australia. We hope you benefit from the podcast and share it with colleagues and contacts.

Five Actions for Your Council to Support Local Business:

I. Fees and charges. Waive fees and charges required to do business, defer payments for; health inspections, garbage collection and development applications, waive rent in council owned premises, provide residential rate relief and deferral.

II. Cutting redtape. Whether it is for rezoning, change of use, licence or permit make it easier for businesses to deal with and access council services, especially for Development Applications, review the many steps and turnaround times- adopt a can do culture.

III. Procurement and projects. Being big procurers of services including contractors for rubbish removal, footpath and road repairs and technology experts, Councils should wherever possible source them locally and reduce payment terms from 30 to 7 days to keep cash flow going. Review Council maintenance programmes and small projects and bring forward as many as possible. From repairs, cleaning and upgrading footpaths, local roads, parks and public spaces these contracts keep many people employed and enhance local amenity.

IV. Getting around. Review parking and loading zone restrictions to assist deliveries and shoppers who can’t use public transport and set up temporary pick-up and drop-off zones to ease congestion in key demand areas such as grocery stores and health services.

V. Redeployment. Small and big businesses are laying off staff, Councils can look at ways to redeploy these people on a paid or perhaps on a volunteer basis.

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Level 23, 45 Clarence Street

Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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