Council continues to support Blue Mountains businesses and the local economy after bush fires and COVID-19 pandemic
It has been estimated that almost 2,600 jobs were lost in the Blue Mountains following recent bush fires, resulting in a gross turnover loss of nearly $560 million.
Data from REMPLAN’s The 2019-2020 Bushfires: Economic Impact on the Blue Mountains Region report, commissioned by Blue Mountains City Council, confirms the significant impact recent bush fires had on the local economy and livelihoods.
Mayor Mark Greenhill said the economic effects of COVID-19 were still to be determined, but there was no doubt the pandemic would compound the downturn, shown in recent analysis, and prolong the recovery time of the Blue Mountains economy.
“The effects on local businesses from bush fires, storms and now COVID-19 are nothing short of devastating,” Mayor Greenhill said. “The Council remains committed to supporting the community, and our businesses, through this difficult period.”
Council has responded to recent disasters with an Outreach Program to support small businesses across the City. Council has also:
- Waived rents for tenants in Council buildings under commercial agreements for as long as needed.
- Provided payment arrangements for ratepayers and businesses who are experiencing hardship.
- Developed a ‘Recovery for Business’ web portal with information to assist business.
- Planned a program of virtual activation.
- Implemented a Love Local campaign, with a monthly ‘town centre in focus’ feature, to continue to support businesses that are open. A Business Directory is currently being rolled out to inform locals how businesses are adapting their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council is also financing a major destination marketing campaign, to be released when COVID-19 restrictions ease, to attract domestic visitors back to the Blue Mountains.
Blue Mountains City Council CEO Dr Rosemary Dillon said Council was committed to supporting the recovery of our City and keeping staff safe and usefully employed, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council is one of the largest employers in the region and 86 per cent of Council employees call the Blue Mountains home.
Council also wants more local businesses and service providers to submit tenders for Council work, Dr Dillon said.
Council is investigating how more tenders can be awarded to local businesses. Planning is also underway for further ‘Doing Business With Council’ workshops for local providers, to assist them in tendering for Council work.
“Council also has significant contracts in place with local trades and service providers that fall outside of the formal tender process,” Dr Dillon said. “These contracts are incredibly important at times like this, when the local economy is suffering due to disasters.”
More than 300 local businesses contributed to The 2019-2020 Bushfires: Economic Impact on the Blue Mountains Region report and the Tourism sector was well represented.
“Council calls on the State and Federal government to increase the level of assistance to local businesses,” Mayor Greenhill said.
“The Council remains committed to supporting the community through COVID-19, but we are a small Council and we will need further assistance from other levels of government to address the significant impacts on the City of the Blue Mountains.
“Without increased funding, the sad truth is many businesses will not survive in the Blue Mountains following COVID-19.”
Keeping Council staff employed during COVID-19
“Council is committed to keeping staff safe and usefully employed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes casuals, wherever possible,” Blue Mountains City Council CEO Dr Rosemary Dillon said. Strategies include:
- Ensuring employees are covered by the new Local Government (COVID-19) Splinter (Interim) Award 2020. The Splinter Award provides specifics about how to deal with COVID-19 that are not included in the standard Award. “I’m really proud of the fact that Blue Mountains City Council had not only already matched this Award, but in some places continues to exceed the requirements of the new Award,” Dr Dillon said.
- Providing operational flexibility. “We are allowing variations to start/finish times, as well as days worked, and allowing staff to work from different BMCC workplaces, or from home where possible.”
- Allowing suitable redeployment. “We are temporarily redeploying staff to other duties within the same service, or in a different service of the organisation, if needed.”
- Providing leave options. “We are encouraging staff to take leave, given many of our community facilities have been closed during this period,” Dr Dillon said.
- Up to 4 weeks of Special Leave at full pay is available for staff when there is no safe or meaningful work available.
- If an employee exhausts their Special Leave entitlement and there continues to be no safe and useful work for that employee to perform, they are eligible for the Job Retention Allowance for up to 13 weeks.
- Providing training options. “We are using this extraordinary period to increase training opportunities for staff. A number of short courses have been made available,” Dr Dillon said.
- Finding innovative solutions. “We are also asking staff to use this time of change, to consider innovative and creative approaches for improving the way we work. We want to identify new opportunities that deliver win-win results for Council and/or the community.”
- Health strategies. “We are also implementing our health strategies for COVID-19, including social distancing and personal hygiene measures, to help keep staff and the community safe during this period.”
“Council is supporting casual and temporary staff, through the current pandemic, as best we can,” Dr Dillon said. “Casual employees have been paid their current seasonal contracts, even when facilities have been closed and the service has been unable to be provided (eg. Learn to Swim Instructors at our Leisure Centres).
“Out of a workforce of 814, we currently have just under 100 staff working from home and just over 100 who are dividing their time between BMCC workplaces and working from home. Most Council staff live in the Blue Mountain, and they are all too aware of the devastating impacts of recent disasters on our community.”
Photo: Council’s Love Local campaign is currently promoting how residents can support businesses during COVID-19. Megalong Books in Leura, pictured, is currently offering home delivery of purchases even though the shop is not open to general browsing.
Supporting our community during COVID-19