Impacts of COVID-19 on Northern Inland Businesses
In April 2020 we conducted a survey of almost 200 businesses in the Northern Inland region to gather cold hard facts and figures to paint a clear picture of the stark COVID-19 reality for local businesses.
The unprecedented pandemic measures which ripped out over 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs (an estimated 7,500 jobs including part-time and casual positions) from our economy, followed a horror bushfire season and the worst drought ever recorded in our region.
The data provided from the survey shows just how big a hit our economy has taken and how business owners have managed their costs. This is critical for appreciating and shaping the re-growth battle ahead.
Regional Australia might expect a tougher, slower recovery than our big cities because the triple whammy we have faced and economic dependence on the agricultural sector, which has seen relatively little assistance in comparison. Yet, our resilience and community spirit has been tried and proven. Drought recovery requires significant reinvestment and does not happen overnight, but our agribusinesses have been enjoying their best conditions in years and that will help with the confidence we need across the board to recover from Covid-19 restrictions.
Preliminary data from the region-wide Covid-19 business survey has already been conveyed to the Federal Government. Together with representatives of regions around the country, we are taking part in regular teleconferences with Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, the Hon. Nola Marino, as well as senior Government officials from the Departments of Regional Development and Treasury. The Government is certainly getting the latest on how our region is managing this crisis.
The most directly impacted businesses by Covid-19 restrictions and therefore the most common in our survey, were hospitality, service and retail enterprises. However, the impacts have dramatically flowed on, across all sectors. Whether impacted directly or indirectly, more than three-quarters of local businesses have taken a moderate hit or worse.
There was a quarterly downturn of 50 percent for half of the survey participants and 67 percent do not have enough income to cover operating costs. We also saw that three out of four would have coped with the pandemic better had they not already endured tough times due to drought and bushfires.
More than one-third of businesses have been considerably reduced by their inability or limited capacity to import or export.
In hospitality and retail, commercial rent was discussed by Federal and State Governments early in the Covid crisis and the onus for a sustainable approach was left up to the businesses and their landlords to negotiate. Our survey showed that 27 percent who needed a special agreement were able to achieve one, but 10 percent tried and failed.
The Covid-19 crisis saw policies rolled out rapidly and many employers have admitted to not keeping up to date on changes in employment law, awards and occupational health and safety. Our Governments are being thorough in getting a great deal of information out to the public as quickly as possible. It is important that local businesses observe Covid-19 or general business regulations from appropriate Government websites and not via social media.
There has been a general build-up of debt, as tertiary industries have struggled to meet costs and retain staff in the face of dramatically reduced or completely halted income. This will handicap or prolong Covid-19 recovery for many.
In general, Northern Inland businesses approve of the Federal and State Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis and most report that the situation for them and their employees would have been far more desperate without the JobKeeper program. Businesses reported that the JobKeeper, ATO support and Booting Cash Flow for Employers programs would be the most helpful.