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Flood recovery and accessing small business supports

Above: the Commissioner meeting with Mitchell Business Network Chairman Darren Knight, Go Seymour President Stuart Locke and local small business owners


Visiting Victoria’s north east

During my recent visit to Victoria’s north east, I was struck by the resilience of the local communities and their great sense of entrepreneurship and optimism. There was a firm commitment to rebuilding and recovering from the impacts of the recent floods, and supporting each other to make that happen.

I saw first-hand the damage that had been done and extensive repairs underway at a car dealership in Seymour. I also heard about the broader, continued impact of local businesses that are still yet to reopen.

It’s clear that small businesses in the north east are keen to expand and bring new business ideas to life. It’s this innovation and drive that draws visitors to the area and valuable dollars into the community.

There are, however, frustrations in navigating dealings with government – from permits and approval processes through to understanding why decisions are made. Small businesses are also frustrated over losing significant clients because of government procurement policies.

In Towong, a number of small businesses are struggling to secure reliable internet connection, which has a range of impacts – from affecting the business’ ability to process online payments to preventing them from contacting emergency services.

Responding to local small business pressures

An important part of my role is advocating on behalf of small businesses, of being that conduit to convey these insights to government in order to effect change.

I also urge all small businesses to consider joining their local business network instead of trying to go it alone. Business networks can offer advice, connectedness and support, and can help to create effective channels of communication that can be relied on in a crisis. They also help to create a united voice for communicating with government, and new ways for raising awareness of the unique value of their small business community.

It was really positive to hear that setting up business networks in smaller towns is a key priority for Business Wodonga. Similarly, Rural City of Wangaratta plans to establish a business and industry community reference group. This reference group will provide advice on sustainable local economic development and tourism initiatives, and ensure community input into council.

The impacts of skills and labour shortages across industries and a lack of affordable housing options for workers continue to be felt in regional Victoria, including in the Rural City of Wangaratta.

It’s important that business owners are aware of initiatives that can help. The Victorian Government’s Digital Jobs Program, for example, is a great support that can connect small businesses with workers who have the skills to grow their digital capability.

While supply chain problems are also a huge challenge for businesses at the moment, this does present an opportunity for Victorian businesses to step into that space and connect with other businesses that are finding it difficult to source products from overseas.

Relief for flood-affected business owners

In recovering from the floods, it can be difficult for businesses to navigate supports and determine which grants they are eligible for. While in the north east, I talked about how the Victorian Government’s Business Relief Service can take out the stress and hassle by connecting business owners with a local business relief adviser – either by phone or on the ground.

These advisers can help a small business to assess the impacts of flood damage and identify their needs, manage issues with their insurance provider or landlord, access government supports where they’re eligible and navigate other services – including mental health support.

Resolving commercial disputes

We know that regional business are finding themselves in commercial disputes. These range from businesses refusing to pay their small business suppliers on time to tenant and landlord disputes over repairs to a premises after extreme weather.

It’s vital that they know the Victorian Small Business Commission can help resolve matters like these with impartial help – be it free preliminary assistance or low-cost mediation. With 70 per cent of mediated disputes resulting in a resolution, the odds are very good that people will walk away with a positive outcome.

For more information, see our web page on applying for our help.

– Commissioner Lynda McAlary-Smith