Still waiting for fire loans

Twelve long weeks. 

That’s how long businesses which have battled since the bushfires have been hanging on to get a low-interest loan through the state government.

The concessional loans were given the go-ahead by the federal government on December 23 — two months after the fires — leaving it to NSW authorities to implement the scheme.

But Mountains business owners are still waiting. Labor’s spokeswoman for the Mountains, Trish Doyle, said the delay was unacceptable and pointed out that the Victorian government had already activated loans for businesses in Morwell affected by the Hazelwood mine fire, which was brought under control just this month.

“If Victoria can develop the necessary guidelines why can’t NSW,” she said. “The state government has had plenty of time now.”

Vent Thomas, president of the regional business chamber Biznet, said many businesses continued to suffer.

 “You look at Victoria, done and dusted within a matter of weeks, and here we are, six months down the track and we’re still waiting.”

He said it was difficult to know who required what help and it would have been useful if the government had reached out to those in need.

“Why didn’t the government put a full-page ad in the Gazette calling for people to get themselves on a register,” he said.

 “They could have different criteria — people who lost everything to people who still have a business but have lost significant income.” 

One businessman, Chris Cannell from Hotel Blue in Katoomba, said he was still dealing with financial losses.

He said he had written to the Premier, the Treasurer and the Police and Emergency Services Minister, trying to find out when the loans would be available but had received no response.

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage said the government was currently assessing criteria around the proposed loans. 

“These loans would require a joint funding arrangement between the state and federal government. It has been necessary for the NSW government to conduct assessments and modelling.

“As a small business owner myself, I have made strong representations to the key decision makers in the government to ensure they are acutely aware of the business community’s views on this matter,” she said. “They are in no doubt about the need for a decision to be reached regarding these loans as soon as possible to give the community certainty.” 

The latest figures on the fires aftermath show an expected fall in economic output in the Mountains of more than $100 million due to lost tourism visits.

The report, by the Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise, said the figure came from an anticipated loss of 518 jobs, a fall of $24 million in wages and salaries and another $46 million decline in value-added services.

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