A bit of a break for big business (via a quick testing deal) but the Nats are niggling about neglect of businesses that are struggling

While the government was bringing good news to  big business – a few of our biggest companies, anyway – National’s Small Business and Tourism spokesperson, Todd McClay, was out batting for small businesses.

The good news was that a “coalition of around 25 businesses across a range of sectors” has been granted an exemption by the Director-General of Health to import and use approved rapid antigen tests.  The number of businesses involved is curiously imprecise.

Radio NZ presumably asked for the names of the companies involved (they aren’t listed in the ministerial press statement) and more specifically reported that “a coalition of 25 firms” was involved, although this suggests it didn’t list them all in its online report:

Companies taking part in the trial: Mainfreight, Foodstuffs North Island, Genesis, Hynds Pipe Systems, Mercury, Summerset Group, Wellington Airport, Christchurch Airport, Sky NZ, Queenstown Airport, Spark, Vodafone, The Warehouse Group, ANZ Bank, Contact Energy, Fulton Hogan, Countdown/Woolworths NZ, Fletcher Building, Carter Holt Harvey, Meridian Energy, DHL Express NZ, Air NZ and Auckland Airport.

But let’s not quibble.  The aim is to quicken the pace of Covid-19 testing among the companies’ workers, no bad thing.

The chosen businesses have signed up to a charter with MBIE and the Ministry of Health, committing to work together and share insights to inform any wider roll-out of rapid antigen testing to other work sites.

Todd McClay’s concern, on the other hand, was that businesses all over the country are in “dire, dire trouble” as half the North Island remains in sustained Level 3 lockdowns.

“That’s more than 40 per cent of New Zealanders under strict restrictions and with tourism in Queenstown and Rotorua also experiencing their worst school holidays on record the Government must act and swiftly to keep kiwis in jobs,” McClay said.

“The Government need only read the news to find report after report of collapsed businesses and the extreme measures others are taking to just stay afloat. Retirement funds are being drained and houses are being re-mortgaged and all with no guarantee of how much longer they will need to hold on for.”

The wage subsidy and resurgence payments had been welcomed, McClay acknowledged,

“… but the Government must understand that it is just not enough. If businesses continue to collapse the cost to the country in monetary and social terms will be significant.”

The Minister for Small Business, Stuart Nash, seems bound to disagree with McClay.

Just a few days ago he was chairing a virtual summit from Wellington for the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting (SMEMM).

He shared data that show SMEs account for more than 97 per cent of all businesses across the Asia Pacific region “and are the heartbeat of all APEC economies”

They employ more than half the workforce and make a significant contribution to economic growth. Typically 40 per cent of GDP of most APEC economies derives from SMEs, Nash said.

At the meeting he chaired

“… collectively we agreed on the need to place SMEs at the heart of our economic recovery.” 

Mind you, there was a strong whiff of the “inclusiveness” ideology that strongly influences the Ardern government in Nash’s press release.

The APEC Ministers want close attention on the role of digitalisation to enable effective recovery, he said,

“… as well as greater inclusion for women and indigenous peoples, to enhance the wellbeing of SMEs and the people who work in them.”

He went on to say:

“We also recognise that SME owners and operators belong to families, participate in communities and have their own aspirations and ambitions. We need to ensure the mental wellbeing of SME owners is acknowledged alongside efforts to improve the financial resilience of their business.” 

He then mentioned the financial support rolled out following the community outbreak in August. This includes:

  • Four rounds of wage subsidies worth more than $3.04 billion, for 1.26 million jobs in 321,000 businesses, including 175,000 people who are self-employed
  • Three rounds of resurgence support payments for businesses’ fixed costs, worth $947 million across 319,000 applicants
  • Concessionary interest-free loans for SMEs, worth more than $105 million for 6,500 businesses

Is there more to come?

Maybe.

“As our pandemic response evolves we will keep pursuing initiatives to strengthen the resilience of SMEs, build sustainable growth in the APEC region, and keep up the momentum of economic recovery.”

But Todd McClay is dissatisfied.

While the wage subsidy and resurgence payments have been welcomed, he said,

“… the Government must understand that it is just not enough. If businesses continue to collapse the cost to the country in monetary and social terms will be significant.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson had been willing to splash the Covid Fund around for completely unrelated projects, McClay said.

He demanded the money be used for what it was intended and invested heavily in keeping businesses afloat.

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