City to support Newcastle’s community and economic resilience with comprehensive COVID-19 plan

25 Mar 2020

City of Newcastle has developed a comprehensive community and business support package designed to help locals through the unprecedented effects of COVID-19. 

The package, which has been designed to maintain the organisation’s financial sustainability, is initially worth $5.5 million in the short term and includes interest free payment plans for rates, rent reductions on council-owned buildings, free online training packages, and a boost to the City’s infrastructure program to deliver an economic stimulus. 

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the package, which was adopted at last night’s Council meeting, delivers both financial and social support to ensure Newcastle remains resilient during this challenging time.  

“We understand that every business is suffering enormously from the impacts of COVID-19 and will likely be affected for the foreseeable future,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“It’s imperative, now more than ever, that we work together.

“Our resilience package has been informed by experts and seeks to focus on areas where local government has a clear strength and mandate.  

“Many in in our community are facing unemployment and the elderly may become more isolated for the next few months as they minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

“We will further promote City of Newcastle’s existing financial hardship policies and make it easier for rate payers to enter interest free payment arrangements. 

“The City will also offer free access to digital training resources for all small business owners and their staff, as well as the broader community, to enable the upskilling and transformation of the workforce during the predicted time of slow economic activity.”

A City Taskforce, led by the City of Newcastle will be established to act as the local coordinating authority to oversee the future recovery phases of COVID-19 pandemic crisis.  

The City will also assist not for profit organisations and will expand its e-library offering in a commitment to support community wellbeing and the most vulnerable and emerging at-risk groups. 

Cr Nelmes said the package included enhancing City of Newcastle’s ‘buy local’ commitment. 

“Businesses within the Newcastle Local Government Area will be favoured with a temporary change to the procurement policy which further enhances the assessment weighting for locals.   

“We will also fast track our invoice payment to provide improved cash-flow for businesses and to keep the economy ticking. 

“A 50 per cent discount will be given for rent on City-owned  land and buildings for the June quarter lifting the pressure for dozens of local small businesses and community organisations. 

“We are embracing community thinking. The City of Newcastle is a community that cares and looks after each other. We will continue to promote and facilitate equitable access to services and facilities.” 

For further information on City of Newcastle’s response to COVID-19 please see newcastle.nsw.gov.au/COVID-19  

Community and Economic Package Overview 

Financial Hardship Support - $468,000 
The City will provide financial hardship support for residents to develop payment plans for their rates. All fees and charges including interest penalties will be waived until 30 June 2021. It will also offer hardship support for owner occupier commercial ratepayers or commercial property owners who can demonstrate the reduction will be passed onto their tenants.  

Procurement and Purchasing Support - $535,000 
Our existing procurement policy includes a minimum local weighting assessment of 10 per cent. Where possible, this weighting will be increased for the next six months. Invoices from existing contracts with local suppliers will be processed within seven days as soon as approved.  

Council support - $1,500,000 
The City will give businesses and individuals flexibility on a range of Council fees and policies to ease pressures relating to COVID-19. This will allow essential businesses and service providers to operate responsively to the City’s changing needs in line with the latest advice from the NSW Government and Federal Government. Includes the waiving of library fees, returning booking fees and maintaining hourly parking rates at current levels.  

Rent relief for City of Newcastle tenants - $732,000 
Small businesses operating out of council owned buildings will receive a cash flow relief with the City offering a 50 per cent discount on rent for the next two quarters. 
 
e-Library expansion - $100,000 

Expansion of existing e-Library services including e-book and e-audio platforms, video story, movie and music streaming platforms, access to online newspapers and e-magazines.  

Online learning – Studiosity and Lynda - $60,000 
Promote existing online training programs, such as Lynda, as well as expanding our subscription to Studiosity, which provides one-on-one tutoring for school and tertiary students. 

Community grant program - $800,000 
The City will make financial and in-kind support available to mobilise the Newcastle community sector to respond to immediate community need, with a focus on the most vulnerable and emerging at risk groups. An Expression of Interest process will also be opened for Newcastle-based not-for-profits, non government organisations, community groups and organisations to receive funds to deliver essential local services and innovative solutions to COVID-19 created challenges.  
 
City taskforce and industry responses - $500,000 
A City Taskforce, led by the City of Newcastle will be established to act as the local coordinating authority to oversee the future recovery phases of COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The Taskforce will initially fund an Expression of Interest program to provide innovative support to targeted local industries. 
 
Lean In Newy - $150,000 
“Lean-In Newy” is a social action and economic incentive app that will engage and propel local behaviours, such as volunteering. The platform will enable social actions to be pushed out to our local community, with built-in economic incentives. 
 
Local online training programs - $500,000 
Council will support local small business owners and staff to undertake professional development training and accreditation. 

Communications and marketing budget is $100,000