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'It Feels Like We've Been Discriminated Against'

Events, such as the Weekender Festival, cannot go ahead under current Covid-19 restrictions.

The owner of a Jersey events company says he feels like the industry has been slightly discriminated against following the recent announcement of a new business support package.

That package includes boosting the Co-funding Payroll Scheme to 90% of each employees wages up to £2,500 a month, and covering four months of fixed costs based on how severely a business has been hit by recent Covid restrictions.

But Rob Ritchie from Stage 2 Productions, which has been restricted since the pandemic started last March, feels it's more aimed at firms that have only just been forced to close.

"It's packaged ideally for those. It's a three-month support package and is geared very much for the hospitality and retail industry that have just suffered.

"Quite rightly they need support, but I don't think it's quite aimed at our needs.

Events companies and nightclubs have been able to apply for wage subsidises since they were introduced last year.

However, unlike many other industries, they've been barely able to operate at all for the last ten months because of the rules on gatherings and social distancing.

The government then launched a 'Visitor Attractions and Events Scheme' in January 2021. That covers 80% of fixed costs between October 2020 and April 2021, but only if the business:

  • Has suffered a 50% detriment to their turnover because of the government's public health restrictions
  • Has turned over at least £300,000
  • Is registered for GST purposes
  • Has tried to borrow to support itself, either through commercial lenders, or through the Businesses Disruption Loan Guarantee Scheme
  • Has completed a Jersey Business Health Check

In a letter to Ministers earlier this month, the 'Jersey Events Entertainment and Nightclub Stakeholders Group' called it 'woefully inadequate' and a 'futile attempt to show that the Government has offered some support', with most unable to meet those requirements.

The group of 16 companies asked for more support and for the minimum turnover threshold, GST, and loan requirements to be removed. That hasn't happened.

Mr Ritchie wants that criteria to be reviewed.

"That is a lifeline to the businesses that are running, if not have already run out, of money. We are trying to hold our own and all we need is a little bit of support to make sure that we can pay the bills, so that we can get out of this.

"There isn't a huge amount of money in the pot, but I think it's enough if they allow that money to be accessed."

Speaking in last week's media briefing, the Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham insisted that the government would 'continue to do everything it can' to get money to those businesses worst hit by ongoing restrictions.

The Deputy Chief Minister also said that some conditions of the visitor, attractions and events scheme may need to be looked at again.

"One of the conditions is that businesses will have had to have sought borrowing under the Bank Loan Guarantee Scheme, because it's only fair that the taxpayer shares the burden with the businesses and the bankers.

"That scheme has £3.5million to distribute, I would like to see it all distributed.

"I have undertaken to have another look at the terms and conditions of the scheme, remembering that we are in unprecedented times."

The Chief Minister then said more than £100 million had been invested throughout 2020 in local jobs - which he called 'quite significant'.

Mr Ritchie from Stage 2 Productions says while he appreciates that the events industry has been supported through the Co-funded Payroll Scheme, he doesn't think the support has been 'substantial'.

"We have been able to apply for the co-funding which is really helpful. It has given us up to 80% of the wage bill, but there is still 20% of the wage bill to find and still all the other bills that we have - rent and rates and everything else that comes with running a business. We've had no support for that.

"So far, the package that has been offered (Visitor Attractions and Events Scheme) would support that if we are able to qualify.

"So it feels a little bit like we've been discriminated against because we're an events business, whereas if I owned a shop, I would have a bit more access to some direct support."

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