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One-off drought assistance for ‘borderline’ businesses

DROUGHT assistance has been extended to non-farm rural businesses.

The WA Government is offering eligible businesses a one-off $500 contribution towards the cost of engaging a local professional accountant or consultant to evaluate the business’ financial position and future direction.

A spokeswoman for Small Business Minister Clive Brown said the $500 would be made available to businesses “on the borderline” that needed some independent help.

She said the business’ status would be determined by a free Small Business Development Corporation or Business Enter-prise Centre assessment.

Businesses wanting to access the service have to phone 1800 199 125.

Workshops on cost reduction, debt collection, budgeting, marketing and customer service will be held, subject to demand.

The scheme covers 25 drought-affected shires in WA Wheatbelt.

Some farmers in the area have suffered three bad seasons with crops and pasture blighted by drought and frost. When farm income is down, businesses in those farming communities suffer.

In many cases farmers have extended their payment schedules out to 90 days, but many rural small businesses are on seven-day or less payment terms.

The Government scheme has been received with a mixture of optimism and scepticism in rural areas.

The standing joke in those areas is the businesses already know what their financial situation is – bad.

But there also is some appreciation that Government is recognising their plight.

Jerramungup Business Enterprise Centre manager Yvonne Polain said anything they could get for small business was a bonus.

“This will be a help but most businesses in this area know how their finances are going anyway,” Ms Polain said.

Lake Grace shire president Meighan Stewart said the funding for advisers would be useful to anyone who needed it.

But Mr Stewart believes the Federal Government should give businesses unemployment benefit payments to subside employees’ wages.

“It’s better to have people employed than unemployed. If the businesses can’t afford to keep staff, those people will probably end up in Perth on the dole anyway,” he said.

“This way it helps keep people in town. Every time you take a family out of town that’s about $15,000 to $20,000 out of the community.

“Once you take kids away from the school you lose school teachers. We’ve already lost one policeman from the town.

“And you lose local knowledge and skills from the town. Once these people leave they never come back.

“Between six and nine months ago you couldn’t buy or rent a house in Lake Grace. Now there are quite a few houses on the market.”

Mr Stewart said the Government had told him his unemployment benefits proposal could not be administered due to legislative difficulties.

“Legislation can always be changed. It’s just a matter of political will,” he said.

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