Wellington businesses to get earthquake relief from Government
Dozens of Wellington businesses caught inside earthquake cordons stand to benefit from a relief package announced on Monday by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.
The $7.5 million package already announced for hard-hit Kaikoura businesses will be extended to include about a dozen businesses around 61 Molesworth St; up to 20 around the Courtenay Central complex, mostly in Tory St; and a larger number of businesses in and around Queensgate Mall in Lower Hutt.
To qualify for support, they must be unable to trade because of cordons, and unable to move to alternative premises. Those with continuity insurance will not be eligible.
"The situation in Wellington is different from that in Kaikoura because a state of emergency hasn't been declared, and the city overall is functioning well," Joyce said.
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"However, a small number of retail and hospitality businesses have been prevented from trading with the public for an extended period, because of the need to demolish buildings."
Wellington businesses in and around the cordons have pleaded for help since the quake, with many facing losses from closures and some having to lay off staff.
First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson welcomed the decision and said training and retaining good staff were the biggest challenges in the retail and hospitality sectors.
"It will allow the businesses to deal with the staff issue right now and then look at how their wider recovery strategies can come into play," he said.
"The businesses we have spoken to, their overwhelming concern has been for the staff first and their cashflow second."
Greig Wilson, whose business owns Vinyl Bar within the Courtenay Pl cordon, said: "It's just in time because I know a lot of my staff are hurting, and we've given out loans just today to pay for their rent and food.
"We would just about shout Steven Joyce a beer."
He said the focus on salary relief meant there was still a conversation to be had regarding helping business with lost profits through measures such as tax relief.
Eligibility for relief will be assessed by the Ministry of Social Development, with support from the Wellington Chamber of Commerce and the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, and guidelines published online.
"It can be extended if other buildings are cordoned off for similar periods of time as those at Queensgate, Molesworth St, and Tory St," Joyce said.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said businesses with continuity insurance would not be eligible. "This is for those who physically cannot move their fittings and can't operate their businesses.
"Joint ministers will review the scheme before Christmas once more information is available. Further funds will be made available if required."
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester welcomed the package, and said: "The job now is to make sure we are preparing for future earthquakes.We are urgently developing a list of resilience investments that can be brought forward to help us prepare, and we will be collaborating closely with the Government.
"It's important we learn the lessons from this quake and that our capital city is well prepared for the future."
Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said it was unclear from Joyce's statement whether sole-trader businesses would have access to the package.
It is vitally important that they can access this package, along with those who employ staff."
Robertson, Lester and Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace had all put pressure on the Government since the quake.
Wallace was pleased the package was extended to his region. "We've had some big challenges from this earthquake, followed by flooding the next day.
"Our community took good care of one another and we came through. Now we need to continue this kindness and support as we focus on recovery."
* The support will be focused on subsidising employee wages while closures continue.
* Support will cover up to eight weeks at a rate of $500 a week gross for full-time staff and $300 for part-timers, and will not be subject to GST.
* It will apply only for the period during which the business is prevented from operating.
* The $7.5m pool already supports 59 Kaikoura businesses, with $606,000 already paid out.