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Hon. Grant Robertson, Minister for Finance
Kia ora Minister Robertson,
As one City Centre MP – let alone one music nerd, theatre-lover and good-food enthusiast – to another, the political decisions made in the next days and weeks will mean life or death for the things we adore about the places we call home. On the eventual other side of this pandemic, we can walk back out into a world thriving with creativity unleashed and thriving in all its forms; our cities’ hearts and souls battle-hardened but ready and raring to put on a good show and infamous local hospitality.
We know you, Prime Minister and Cabinet are inundated with opinions, critique and calls for help in relation to COVID-19. We’ve all seen, heard, read and felt the exhaustion of dealing with a constantly morphing virus. Despite hardship and disagreement, we have a lot to be proud of in our fight so far.
In Auckland Central, the resilience of our cultural infrastructure has been tested time and again. Through two years of fighting with commercial landlords, taking on board more debt and risk and creating, innovating and ‘pivoting,’ we cannot let the doors close indefinitely at the last hurdle.
We welcome the $120 million funding top-up announced for the Arts sector this week, but as you’ll know talking to the people behind the scenes, the ones who provide and operate the gear and hold the space, those who purvey food and drink and the ecosystem of a good day or night out have fallen through the gaps.
There’s no more ‘fat’ to trim. We’re left with the bare bones.
The Government has changed its strategy and has let the country know Omicron cases will continue to climb each day. Ministers have indicated that they believe life can go on as close to normal for many people.
While many can work from home, the office blocks in the electorate are empty. But working from home is not an option, nor a reality, for the many I serve. We’re talking about those who run our music venues, theatres, dancehalls, local cafes and restaurants and pubs. The institutions and holes-in-the-wall that have weaved themselves into the fabric of our communities.
This week I met with dozens of impacted Aucklanders. I heard of relationships breaking down, letting go of staff who had been around so long they were family and cash reserves so low it’d be a few weeks before bankruptcy. As one operator put it to me, it’d be an awful waste of the Government’s own billions of dollars spent if it all went belly up at the last moment.
Technically, legally, these small businesses can open. But technically, legally, they cannot really operate. Nobody wants to be a vector for the virus and next to none want to ‘loosen’ things up, lest it cause harm to the communities they love and are accountable to. Without support, some are faced with the impossible ethical dilemma of keeping staff on-board and accepting ‘grey area’ private functions, where rules don’t apply as they do in normal business operation.
People are not going out, because the Government has rightfully informed people of the outbreak to come.
This pandemic has not been felt equally. You know that inequality, particularly wealth inequality, has risen sharply. You know that some large multi-nationals who took the Wage Subsidy paid record shareholder dividends. You know the banks have reported record profits.
You know that you have the opportunity to change policy settings that are enabling a growing gap between owner-operators, freelancers, the ‘little guy’ and the corporates and asset-owners who’ve profited handsomely over the last two years. There are many tools at your disposal, political as they are, to restore the balance.
To retain the things we love about our city, the solutions are clear. The Government must:
- Facilitate commercial rent reductions
- Extend the IRD interest-free and Government-backed loans schemes
- Revive the wage subsidy, resurgence payment or other targeted support, whether it be with claw-back or strict conditions
- Support Auckland Council in providing reductions of or flexibility in payment of bills for rates, licencing and administrative fees, as well as simplifying application processes
No one is pretending that things were sustainable or perfect before the pandemic hit. But if we lose the people and places who give our city its vibrancy, we will be knocked back by more than ten years. We will lose some of the things our nation hopes to trade on when the Government plans to open the borders; the skills and experience, icons, institutions and literal hospitality of our largest city.
We have a lot of work to do, now and on the other side of this outbreak. As we’ve done before, we can share the pain and get through this. Let’s truly do it together.
Ngā mihi nui,
Chlöe Swarbrick, Member for Auckland Central
And the owner-operators, the cultural infrastructure, the representatives, champions, lovers and fighters of Auckland Central, including:
Save our Venues
Restaurant Association of New Zealand
Hospitality Association of New Zealand
Ponsonby Road Business Association
Green Door Pizza
Ponsonby Road Bistro
Xuxu Dumpling Bar
Carmel’s Israeli Street Food
Smokin’ Cole BBQ
Sid at the French Café
The Candy Shop
Good Dog Bad Dog
Neck of the Woods
Studio the Venue
Al Volo Pizzeria
Portland Public House
Mark Southon, Chef, formerly O’Connell Street Bistro
Kelli Brett, Editor, Cuisine Magazine