Low-interest business loans scrapped

After waiting months, the hopes of small business owners for low-interest loans to help them through a post-bushfire slump have been dashed by the state government, which decided this week to abandon the scheme.

The federal government committed to the loans before Christmas but they had to be implemented by state authorities.

Neither MP representing the Mountains seemed satisfied with the decision, Louise Markus calling it “unfortunate” and Roza Sage saying she was “disappointed”.

Mrs Markus said: “This was a policy taken to the last election to recognise the impact upon small business as a result of natural disaster.

“This has been implemented at the federal level and it is unfortunate that it has not been activated by the state government.”

Mrs Sage said she had made a “concerted and consistent effort to ensure the key decision-makers in the government assessing this jointly-funded loans proposal ... were aware of the challenges facing the Blue Mountains business community.

“I am disappointed for Blue Mountains business owners following the difficult times they have faced since the fires,” she said.

The state government has instead decided a Community Recovery Fund is the best way forward. It includes a grants program for small business but individual businesses will not qualify for cash.

A NSW government spokesman said the fund provided the “most effective, locally-based approach to support businesses and community economy recovery. Assistance under the fund will be prioritised by the local community and is designed to quickly re-establish business operations.”

But ALP spokeswoman for the Mountains, Trish Doyle, called the O’Farrell government’s decision “absolutely outrageous”.

“Many in the community would agree with me in saying that this is a betrayal and breach of trust. We’ve been told for months now of the imminent release of these loans, that guidelines were being formulated — all to no avail.”

ALP federal candidate Susan Templeman called the decision a “cruel blow” for business who had been hoping for help.

“It shows either the complete incompetence of a federal government unable to co-ordinate disaster assistance with the state, or a total disregard for the needs of a bushfire-affected economy by both levels of power,” she said.

Hotel manager Chris Cannell, from Hotel Blue in Katoomba, said it was “just a slap in the face” for the small business community.

“I am appalled that the NSW government doesn’t recognise our desperate need for some support,” Mr Cannell said.

Vent Thomas, president of Biznet, the regional chamber of commerce, also said he was disappointed.

“I do recognise that Roza Sage had lobbied for [the loans] but it would be great to just get a bit better communication out to the community as to why the decision has been made,” he said.

Mrs Sage said she believed the grants program would best help re-establish business operations and prepare for future emergencies.

She said she had pushed to get the government to open applications for the grants from May 5.

Final criteria are being established with input from the community and Blue Mountains City Council.

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