Council wipes off debt for strugglers

Calls to extend JobKeeper

CALLS for the Morrison government to extend its JobKeeper support for Covid-affected businesses continue to mount as Fremantle council’s monthly accounts starkly outline how far the local economic recovery still has to go.

This financial year the council has already had to waive more than $400,000 in bad debts from companies that lease its properties, while the amount of money it is owed more than doubled between December 2019 and 2020 to just shy of $1.5 million.

Tellingly, nearly half of the outstanding debts ($720,169) are already more than 90 days overdue, although that has dropped from a high of $805,000 in the last quarter.

Chief beneficiaries of the CEO’s delegated authority to wipe off debts have been restaurants badly impacted by the lack of tourists.forgiven, with Coast Port Beach not far behind with $62,000 and Gino’s Cafe $51,000.

After having to close between March and July, the Fremantle Markets had $76,000 waived, while a bunch of smaller cafes, artists and a bookstore were also recipients of council support.

A report to this week’s council meeting from the council’s finance manager noted there was another $230,000 identified for potential write-off or waiver, with overall debt increasing by another $23,000 since the last quarter.

Eight tenants owed a combined $300,000 between them and while there were payment arrangements in place, “city officers are liaising with all tenants to provide assistance” as per the McGowan government’ s Covid tenancy laws.

Following last week’s story about cinemas’ calling for Jobkeeper to be extended (“Cinemas my shut without Covid aid,” Herald, February 20, 2021) the Australian Retail Association has warned there are pockets of retail “at breaking point” which won’t survive post-JobKeeper.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said while sales improved through December and January, it wasn’t a complete picture and a drop in government support of $5 billion every month would hit tourism precincts like Fremantle hard.

“Travel retailers in particular are at breaking point and are preparing to shed thousands of jobs,” Mr Zahra siad.

“These are businesses operating within airports and CBD tourist shopping strips which remain largely deserted.

“International borders are not going to reopen any time soon, and these businesses will have no option but to close unless there’s additional federal government support.

“They are in crisis through no fault of their own.”

by STEVE GRANT

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