Over the past two months, the City has been working closely with NSW Health to ensure our city is prepared in the event of any further spread of COVID-19.
Arrangements made to protect public health
The City's community centres are closed until further notice and libraries are operating click & collect services over limited opening hours. Library members can continue to borrow from the City's online collection of over 150,000 books and audiobooks.
Pools and Fitness Facilities are operating at a limited capacity, contact your local pool to book a swimming lane. Childcare centres are operating as normal.
All non-essential City of Sydney events and face-to-face meetings have been cancelled. We are also taking advice from NSW Government agencies on the requirement to disinfect outdoor public spaces if required.
The City has also chaired meetings with all Sydney metropolitan councils, and a Local Emergency Management Committee that includes police, NSW Fire Brigades, SES, Health, Transport for NSW and adjoining land owners. This is allowing us to establish joint approaches to deal with the pandemic and ensure there is no bureaucratic overlap.
Supporting community, business and creative sectors: Stage 1.
The economic, social and cultural impacts of COVID-19 are being felt around the world, as well as in our City of Sydney local government area. The health and wellbeing of our communities is paramount, and we are also very concerned about businesses experiencing a significant downturn in patrons.
During the first signs of the virus in Australia, we met with businesses in Chinatown and Haymarket, which were reportedly experiencing between 50 to 80 per cent downturn in trade due to community fears related to Coronavirus.
In an extraordinary meeting at the end of March, Council unanimously endorsed my Mayoral Minute compelling the City to work with the State Government to support businesses and reduce the impact of any financial hardship. We have now allocated a $25 million package of measures to support businesses and reduce the financial impact of COVID-19.
The pandemic adversely impacts businesses of every size within the City, which is why we are carefully considering a range of options to support our community.
We will provide rent relief for our tenants who need it. We will refund venue and advertising fees for any organisation that made a booking with us, but has now cancelled their event. We have also committed to covering two weeks of staff and operational costs for all our aquatic centres for the next two weeks – this will help them continue to pay their staff during this period and maintain business continuity in the long term.
We are waiving outdoor dining fees, and if restaurants, cafes and bars have space to put chairs and tables outside to maintain their service, we encourage them to do so. We will not charge them for use of the footpath, or fine them for not having a permit. We will continue to complete our necessary health and safety inspections, but we will not charge the regular fee.
We have also directed our rangers to use discretion and only issue parking fines or other penalties if there is an imminent public or environmental health or safety risk.
The following measures will be in place for an initial period of six months:
- The City will waive fees for Health and Building compliance activities (anticipated revenue loss of $1.6M);
- The City, in conjunction with its tenants, will review rents in City premises for tenants that require support on a case-by-case basis (anticipated cost up to a value of $4M);
- The City will waive its standard contractual terms and return booking and banner fees to people and organisations who have booked City of Sydney venues and are now unable to proceed with their bookings (anticipated costs up to a value of $3M);
- Footway dining, market permit and filming fees will be waived on the grounds of hardship for an initial period of six months (anticipated revenue loss of $1.5M); and
- Reduced revenue due to flexible parking infringements (anticipated revenue loss of $10-15M).
The City will also work with major business partners and contractors, whether or not services continue to be provided in their current form, to support them as much as possible so they can continue to pay their staff during this period and maintain business continuity in the long term. The City has committed to covering two weeks of staff and operational costs for all its aquatic centres for a two week closure period.
The financial support will add to the policy changes the City has already implemented, including:
- To facilitate social distancing, some businesses will need to expand their outdoor dining areas and increase or introduce take away food options, and the City will help facilitate this.
- The City will only take enforcement action for matters that present an imminent public, environmental, health or safety risk.
- Supermarkets and other stores will be able to operate their loading docks 24 hours a day to enable them to have essential goods delivered. The City has contacted all major supermarkets to advise them of this change.
Supporting community, business and creative sectors: Stage 2.
The new $47.5 million package significantly expands on support measures announced last week, bringing the City’s relief for businesses, cultural and creative industries and community support sector to $72.5 million. The package will be considered and voted on at an extraordinary meeting of Council this coming Monday. The meeting will be held entirely online for the first time in the City’s history.
It’s important that we practise physical distancing, but sadly, the measures that save lives also hurt the livelihoods of many in our community. Those who work in our creative, arts and entertainment industries are facing months of cancelled events, lost income and uncertainty.
We know the City of Sydney is the heart of the state’s cultural sector, and we know that sector is really hurting. Facilities are closing, and opportunities to work are rapidly diminishing. This has been a terrific shock to everyone who works in this space – from artists, actors and musicians to producers, technicians and back stage staff. What we’re trying to do is support them through this period of survival, to continue creative development and make sure they’re ready for the renaissance when we’re able to move past the coronavirus.
We stand together with those who bring us so much joy, and who help us reflect on and understand the world we live in – especially during this crisis.
The package includes three new funding initiatives to support cultural and creative organisations:
- The Cultural Sector Resilience Grant Program, valued at $25 million, will provide immediate financial support to the not-for-profit and sole traders who are often reliant on individual grant rounds and project based funds to maintain their minimal staff and to pay their artists. Institutions can apply for funds, including to curate creative development programs with groups of artists.
- The Sector-Led Crisis Support Fund, valued at $250,000, will provide direct donations to existing, locally operated, online platforms Support Act NSW, the Artists Benevolent Fund and the Actors Benevolent Fund, who are raising funds to provide emergency relief and mental health support to local cultural workers in crisis.
- The Creative Fellowships Fund, valued at $1 million, will support artists to engage in creative development of works and initiatives driven by the cultural sector, and to purchase materials and e The works can be presented during or after the crisis has passed.
The package also included measures to facilitate business continuity through the crisis.
In this rapidly changing context, many businesses are struggling to trade according to the business model that, until two weeks ago, had proven successful. This relates particularly to businesses impacted by physical distancing measures, such as gyms, retail, cafes, restaurants and bars.
We are providing financial assistance to help businesses adapt and reinvent themselves by going online or shifting their model to abide by new health and safety restrictions. We will also provide financial support to encourage those who can undertake improvements to their premises or operating systems while customer interaction isn’t possible.
The new programs include:
- The Small Business Grants Program, valued at $2 million, will support businesses with innovation and adaptation grants to modify their operating model to produce income and supply products or services to address a current or emerging demand in the market, develop online and e-commerce capabilities, undertake training and professional development and invest in capital works.
- The Small Business Concierge Service will see staff offer advice to small businesses on support available from the City and direct them to appropriate State and Federal support packages, assisting them to navigate this difficult time.
Other measures in the package include:
- Bringing forward the delivery of $23 million in future years’ capital works projects to stimulate employment and City upgrades.
- Lowering the developer contributions for small works under the draft central city contributions plan so small businesses aren’t impacted.
- Increasing the City’s Quick Response Grants and Community Support Grants by $2 million.
- Providing additional rental support worth $1 million for the City’s Accommodation Grant Program tenants, live-work artists and childcare tenants, by waiving all rent for the next six months.
- Donating $1 million to Oz Harvest to maintain staffing levels and adapt their service model to meet food security needs of vulnerable communities through the crisis.
- Free access to City parking stations for essential service workers like police, doctors and nurses.
Arrangements made to protect the health of City staff
We have developed detailed business continuity plans in all business units. These are being reviewed in the context of the current situation, and they’re on standby ready to be activated.
These plans cover a situation where COVID19 becomes widespread in Australia, and state and federal governments move to greater restrictions on the population and activities within the Sydney Local Government area.
The City already requires staff to inform management if they have returned from impacted nations as informed by the federal government advice, and they have access to flexible working arrangements. We are also upgrading IT capabilities to ensure they can continue to work remotely. We have also ordered additional stock, particularly masks, gloves and hand sanitiser for staff.
Arrangements made to protect Sydney’s rough sleepers
Staff from our Homelessness Unit have been out across the City over the past fortnight talking with people who are sleeping rough. They are sharing basic health information on laminated cards, and working with the Department of Communities and Justice who are trying to get people sleeping rough into temporary accommodation and housing. There will of course be some people who will elect to stay on the streets, but we will continue to check on them.
Meals on Wheels
Our Meals on Wheels service will continue as normal, and we have contingency plans in place to deal with any fresh food supply issues. We’re in close touch with the food recipients, so that if we can’t enter their home for any reason, we’ll leave food at doors to ensure everyone is fed and looked after. We are also working to deliver toilet paper to everyone who uses the Meals on Wheels service, which has been generously donated by Woolworths. Our volunteers who drop off the food are doing a wonderful job talking to and reassuring people along their routes.