Small Business Minister criticised for lacking impact analysis of COVID-19 lockdown on 'sacrificial lamb' small businesses

Opposition leader Simon Bridges has criticised Small Business Minister Stuart Nash for not providing analysis on the effect of extending the COVID-19 lockdown on "sacrificial lamb" small businesses. 

Bridges, who chairs the Epidemic Response Committee, asked Nash if he went to Cabinet with any analysis on the effect on businesses in terms of an additional week of lockdown and then another two weeks at alert level 3. 

Nash did not provide any modelling, but said Cabinet "believes an extra week of lockdown may actually end up saving a whole lot of small businesses because we can be even surer that we have COVID-19 under control". 

Nash said it's not about prioritising the health approach or the economy because "both go hand in hand" and "if we get the health response right, our economy is going to come out of this quicker which has got to be good for our small businesses". 

Bridges again asked Nash if he went to Cabinet with any specific details about the effect the extended lockdown could have on small businesses, but the minister did not respond to the question directly. 

Instead, Nash but pointed to the more than $9 billion the Government has spent on subsidising the wages of about 1.6 million New Zealanders during the lockdown. 

Small businesses can also take up the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme which facilitates large loans with the Government guaranteeing 80 percent of the risk and banks 20 percent. 

"The work that I have done around small business processes and the measures put in place to help small businesses get through this I think has made a real difference," Nash said. 

"I have worked incredibly close with the Minister of Finance and all ministers to ensure that our viable businesses will get through this."

Bridges replied, "I take it you get my point."

The National leader cited an email he received from a bakery owner in his Tauranga electorate who said the wage subsidy is not enough because they are accumulating rates, rent, insurance, ACC and other expenses. 

Bridges said while they realise the lockdown has been necessary to curb the spread of COVID, "we are absolutely gutted that our livelihoods are shattered due to our business closure" and they feel like "sacrificial lambs". 

Nash argued that the bakery will be able to move to an online delivery model when New Zealand shifts into alert level 3 a minute before midnight next Monday, which will last for two weeks. 

National MP Todd McClay questioned the alert level 3 rules. He asked Nash why a dairy can be open while a florist next door must stay closed. 

"People walking into that dairy often don't have access to a supermarket," Nash replied. "We believe what we've done in terms of going hard and going early will allow our economy to come back a lot quicker."

Bridges shot back: "You didn't do the analysis of the effect on business so you had nothing to balance these things against. It's just effectively rhetoric you're giving us." 

Nash replied: "We are well aware of the impact this is having on the economy. Believe me we understand the cost of this."

He said about 4000-5000 workers are able to operate during alert level 4 and by alert level 3 up to half a million people will be returning to working again. 

"Globally, we are acknowledged as being one of the leaders in terms of getting this under control," Nash said. 

"I do want to be clear: this is not a return to pre-COVID. This is a waiting room to see if we've actually got the health measures right."

The latest Treasury figures show the alarming economic impact of COVID-19 in New Zealand, with graphs depicting a sharp drop in business confidence and a massive spike in Jobseeker support.