State Business Grant system "not fair and not right" on the bush during COVID

A very quiet Kendal Street in Cowra on Monday morning.
A very quiet Kendal Street in Cowra on Monday morning.

Regional businesses are missing out on NSW State Government business grant funding during the current COVID enforced lockdown.

Business owners are discovering they qualify for JobSaver but not a NSW government business grant worth thousands of dollars.

Director of Cowra's Handyman Crew in the state's central west, Stewart Mead, has found he doesn't qualify for the grant as he can't show a downtown in businesses when grant guidelines call for which is the June/July period for the Sydney lockdown.

As a regional business his downturn took place almost two months later, in August, when the regional lockdown occurred.

Mr Mead is asking other businesses that are missing out on the funding to take part in an online survey.

He hopes to gain enough response to change the grant criteria.

Mr Mead, who is a small services business employing up to 10 staff, says he contacted the office of his local member, State Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke about the matter.

He says Ms Cooke's office told him to contact ServiceNSW.

Two ServiceNSW staff attempted to escalate his questions to an assessment team .

A third told him he didn't meet the criteria.

NSW Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) chief executive David Galloway confirmed that many regional businesses were encountering the same hurdle.

RFCS has asked the NSW State Government to review the criteria.

It is still waiting for a reply.

"The way the program was designed, it was originally designed largely for the Sydney metropolitan area and they haven't expanded it to regional areas," Mr Galloway said.

"We are seeing a lot of businesses that just can't show a downturn during that period because they were still open, particularly in the central west where you see businesses closed for an extended period of time," he said.

Mr Mead's business provides vineyard pruning in the Cowra area as well as gardening and property maintenance.

"Over the past three months I have employed six refugees (most non-English speaking) plus five long term unemployed with some disability or barrier to finding employment," Mr Mead said.

"I also work with two 21 year old guys on the NDIS who live with pretty severe autism to help them become capable of finding mainstream work."

The business grants, he says, aren't designed to help country NSW.

"They want evidence of a decline in turnover prior to June," he said, when he was operating as normal.

"Any businesses operating as normal up until August when we were shut down is not going to have a decline in turnover for the period they want us to show it for.

"None of us will be eligible for the State Government business grant, we'll be out of pocket $10,000," he said.

Businesses will receive Jobsaver but the nett difference between the two forms of assistance over a three week period, Mr Mead believes, is about $10,000.

"I've left messages for (Deputy Premier) John Barilaro, (Member for Cootamundra) Steph Cooke and they've just given me contact details for ServiceNSW," he said.

"For every instance it's $10,000 the country businesses are not getting compared to the city.

"To be city centric in the way that they are is not fair and it is not right.

"If there are 20 businesses in a town that have had to close down that's potentially $200,000 lost to the town that is going to depress the local economy.

"I don't qualify as I was busy billing work in June and July. It was business as usual.

"We are being treated differently to city businesses,I can't be the only business who this applies to.

"I will have to terminate my recently hired formerly long term unemployed as I will not have the working capital to restart my handyman/property maintenance business at the same scale as when we entered lockdown.

"The country is being screwed over by the design of the system as it stands at the moment. We're not second class, why are we getting a raw deal compared to the city" Mr Mead said.

Under JobSaver business support payments will provide grants up to 40 per cent of weekly payroll.

Mr Galloway said there are "some workarounds" for new businesses.

"You can also demonstrate reductions in turnover not just from 12 months ago but from two weeks beforehand or for places on the border, two weeks after the Victorian lockdowns," he said.

"For new businesses it is particularly tough, if you were building your revenue, to then show a reduction in revenue, it can be very difficult.

"The best thing (businesses) can do is have a chat to a professional, whether that's your accountant or the Rural Financial Counselling service. That's really the key.

"From there we can put in a request through to the government for exceptional circumstances, but that can be challenging in its own right.

"There is a hardship review pathway, we, can help put up a case for that as well," Mr Galloway said.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke was contacted by both Mr Mead and ACM for comment.

Mr Mead's survey can be found at here.

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