Bass Coast Shire must place a moratorium on municipal rates and give the shire community a respite in these extraordinary times. This would allow businesses, especially small business owners, the ability to let one of the greatest headaches for any business, the rent, be less of a burden on the fixed costs.
In a time when cash flow is at best a dribble, and at worst, non-existent, rate relief would induce landlords to bend to public pressure and pass on rent moratoriums or rent reductions for a fixed period. It would be similar to the RBA dropping interest rates and the banks passing on the rate cut to its customers.
I suggest that the municipal rates be put onto a deferral plan so the 2020 rates can be paid over three years as a top-up to the normal rates in the years 2021 and 2022.
This arrangement may incur a small interest component to cover the loss of revenue in the short term. Another model would be to pay back the 2020 rates over the ensuing years in proportion to the recovery of the turnover of the business.
There should be a hardship scheme put in place immediately where every business can register with Bass Coast Shire for relief. Banks, finance companies even utilities are extending a similar helping hand.
Any rate reduction must be considered in conjunction with deferral or even cancelation of some capital works.
Bass Coast Shire has to put onto the backburner the redevelopment of the Cowes Cultural Centre. Though not ideal, it is a perfectly functional centre and this one measure alone would save $19 million. Other projects that must be considered are the sports precinct in Cowes, the skate park in Newhaven, even the redevelopment of the Cowes pier, which everyone knows is one of my core policies.
All must now take a back seat for the sake of our community.
International travel won’t happen for the foreseeable future and island traders will suffer badly. Big businesses, like Phillip Island Nature Parks, will get strong backing from the government over a sustained period – but not independent small business.
The biggest problem overall – even greater than normal – will be the lack of visitors. From now till the Moto GP there will be almost nothing. All retail businesses and many holiday house owners with Airbnb, caravan parks hotel/motels, cafes, restaurants and retailers, prepared budgets and cash flow modelling on the expectation of visitors and local events. We have just gone through Easter with everywhere in lockdown. A big chunk of yearly turnover has been lost and the ability to catch this up is non-existent.
Unfortunately, there is very little representation of small business skill set on the Bass Coast Shire Council. With the continual turnover of businesses on the island, there is no continuity of or cohesion in the small business association. The association is simply not an effective and persuasive lobby group.
During this time Bass Coast Shire could run a series of webinars for business with topics including:
* Planning for the end of the lockdown. How will social distancing and sanitising and other measures impact on your business and how can you implement these so that your client feels comfortable and reassured by the measures you have taken?
* Stocktaking and assessing your stock needs into the future.
* Look at your product mix. What was the local demand for your goods as opposed to the goods that tourists purchase?
* Re-price stock. Reassess margins in this current climate of post COVID-19.
* Identify redundant stock that can be used for a re-opening sale.
* With everybody now online, look at your media presence. Enhance your website and social media to stay engaged with your clients.
* Spring clean or even paint your workplace. Rejig your floor plan to make it look fresh.
* Identify how much of the current working-from-home can be or will be retained after the lockdown.
* Take a snapshot of your business at this time. Is your business model working? What can you or should you change?
Use this time to refresh your skills or even learn new ones online.
It cannot be overstated that the mental health of our community is just as important as our physical health. It is well recognized that financial worries are a major cause of mental stress. Implementing the learned outcomes from these seminars will keep staff engaged with their business and give a positive vibe to a reopening.
It would give everyone in the business a positive outlook and a sense of confidence. It will keep owners engaged with their staff and give all something to look forward to on the other side.
I don’t want to politicise this current situation, but the decisions taken to date are not far-reaching or bold enough. Councillors have to think out of the box.
They have to be braver than just taking the advice from shire officers. They need to listen to business owners and ratepayers are saying, not only on the island but across the entire shire.
By all means harness facts and models from the shire officers but make your decisions based on what the community says it needs to stay alive. The shire officers are here to implement the decisions of councillors, not the other way around. Cut your coat according to your cloth.
Ronnie Bauer, Cowes.