We must take a caring and creative approach to this situation

Being caring and creative are two of Melbourne’s greatest strengths – and we will need both to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

The corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets on Wednesday.Credit:Justin McManus

We must adhere to the most up-to-date health advice but I am urging all Melburnians to support each other and our business community. We showed the depth of our support for others during the state’s recent bushfire crisis. We naturally come together during tough times to lend a helping hand to Victorians. Now is the time to continue and expand that tradition of being a caring community that puts people first.

The City of Melbourne is working hard to continue delivering services for our most vulnerable – particularly older people and those sleeping rough. We are working with other levels of government and service providers to try to ensure that assistance gets to where it is needed most. Members of the community can also be helpful and proactive by only buying what you need at the store and asking if others around you need help.

There’s no doubt that we are living through extraordinary times and the daily changes we are required to make to slow the spread of the virus are significant. Going to the movies, attending a big family wedding and cheering at a major sporting match have all become essentially impossible to do.

Melbourne is the sporting and major events capital of Australia. These measures taken to slow the spread of the virus are hitting our local economy particularly hard.

I am asking Melburnians to be considerate of the huge challenges being faced by local businesses. Without our ongoing support many businesses will be forced to close and locals will lose their jobs. Can we find creative ways to keep purchasing from our local businesses so they can keep their doors open and paying their staff?

At the City of Melbourne, we are doing what we can. We recently announced a local stimulus package that includes waiving certain fees for licences, registrations and street trading permits for three months, halving rent for tenants in council-owned buildings, developing a rates hardship policy, partnering with Spotless to offer work around the city to casual employees who have lost their jobs and hosting a virtual Town Hall business support summit.

Every councillor and City of Melbourne staff member is committed to doing whatever we can to help our community get through this unprecedented situation.

Landlords must consider providing temporary rent discounts for local businesses – particularly small to medium-sized enterprises. Workers should try to continue to visit and spend at local retail and hospitality stores along with professional services. We must take every health precaution necessary but we want our city to continue to trade.

The speed and strength of the city’s economic recovery will depend on how well we can support and save businesses through this period. This is not an argument to prioritise business interests over people at this time. We need to remember that about 80 per cent of the more than 16,000 businesses in the city are small businesses. These are sole operators, family operations and small firms with just a few employees. They are Melburnians who have taken a risk to turn their idea into a livelihood and provide work for others. Real people will be severely impacted, not just a business balance sheet.

These are extraordinary and unprecedented times for our city and we must take a caring and creative approach to this situation. The outcomes of our response to this pandemic will be determined by the genuine consideration we have for others and the creativity of our ideas to help. New ways of doing and supporting business could help keep thousands of people employed. Saving as many jobs as possible while strictly adhering to the best health advice should be a high priority for us all right now.

Sally Capp is lord mayor of Melbourne.

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