Covid-19: Auckland businesses call for more financial support

A group of businesses in central Auckland are adding their voices to a growing chorus demanding more financial support for those hit hard by Covid-19.

Earlier this month, more than 60 business owners signed an open letter to Finance Minister Grant Robertson, calling for more support and saying they were on the brink of bankruptcy.

Now the Newmarket Business Association (NBA) is joining the call for more support.

Businesses are allowed to operate under the Covid-19 red light setting, but NBA General Manager Mark Knoff-Thomas told Checkpoint that Checkpoint’s predictions of rising Covid-19 cases had undermines public confidence.

“Across the country, in city centers, we’re seeing foot traffic disappear completely.

“In central Auckland, for example, the foot traffic numbers are devilish and if you’re a hotel provider or a personal service provider or a retailer and you don’t have any customers walking past your company, you can’t transact with them and that seems to be the real problem.”

People were self-imposed to avoid exposure to Omicron, Knoff-Thomas said.

“People are so scared of catching Covid, there’s an absolute culture of fear…they want to stay home and isolate themselves so they won’t be exposed to it and have to go through the home isolation conditions that have been forced on them, then they do it to themselves.”

But with the majority of people in the country double vaxxed, due to getting their boosters and having health and safety protocols in place, life should then return to some degree of normalcy, he said. .

“There is an underlying fear in the community, where people are literally afraid to leave their homes sometimes to go out, that’s wrong, that’s misguided I think, and the government needs to do something to build trust within the community because it’s gone too far.”

Targeted financial support was also needed for businesses that had to endure two years of “evil trading” due to conditions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

“There’s no gas in the tank, there’s no wage subsidy right now, there’s no resurgence payment, there’s no rent relief, trade is down due to the self-imposed lockdown that seems to be happening across the country, it’s literally untenable.”

The government has indicated that it will soon offer hard-hit hotel businesses one-off targeted assistance, but it is not yet clear exactly what this is and when.

Knoff-Thomas said financial support should not be universal, but rather given to genuine companies that have had the “rug ripped out”, which should be demonstrated through business history.

“What we don’t want to see is a whole bunch of zombie companies, I mean in a general real market there will be hits and misses, that’s the nature of our economy, in the good and bad times, but the problem is that we have very good operators who are now on the verge of collapse for reasons beyond their control.”

Although Newmarket businesses had their best trading month in December, it was against the backdrop of two years of terrible trading, Knoff-Thomas said.

“December 2021, we made almost $90 million, but there were months in the year where we made $12 million. In a good month, in a typical month, Newmarket will make about $60 million dollars, but when it’s down about $40 million a month, you can see very quickly that out of the 3,000 companies that trade in Newmarket, some of them aren’t making much at all.”

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