The Canberra Business Chamber has called for further engagement with local businesses before an expanded $2 million ChooseCBR discount voucher scheme launches later this year.
Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt said the December 2020 ChooseCBR trial “did not achieve the outcomes we would have hoped for”, with “significantly less take up by both businesses and customers than originally anticipated”.
“The feedback we’ve received from small businesses highlighted a general lack of awareness of the voucher scheme by business and customers,” he said.
“It clearly needed a much more effective communication and marketing program, and businesses who did participate would have liked more promotion of their participation to attract customers – even a simple thing like a poster for their window.
“There’s also room to make things simpler and more user friendly for businesses and customers.”
Mr Catt encouraged the ACT Government to engage further with small business before rolling out an expanded program so that it has a ”greater chance of delivering real benefit to as many of them as possible”.
Mr Catt’s comments follow the Canberra Liberals calling on the ACT Government to conduct an independent review into last year’s $500,000 ChooseCBR trial.
Labelling last year’s trial a “failure”, Shadow Minister for Business Leanne Castley called for an independent review of the scheme before an expanded version was rolled out.
“I am loath to call for a review – Canberrans are cynical about them and so am I. But the government has $2 million for ChooseCBR in the budget and I do not want to see more money wasted,” Ms Castley said.
“The $500,000 trial in December failed – uptake was low, it was confusing, did not support micro-businesses and many customers who used vouchers did not spend anything extra.”
Minister for Business Tara Cheyne said the Government’s internal analysis of the scheme will suffice, and that an independent ChooseCBR review is unnecessary.
“The internal analysis, based on feedback from businesses and consumers, will be completed this week and will inform the full rollout of the scheme,” she said.
“We do not need an expensive consultant to conduct a review.”
A total of 336 businesses signed up either before or during December’s ChooseCBR trial; Ms Cheyne said feedback received from businessowners was “diverse”.
“Overall, feedback provided to government was positive, with many saying they found the program easy to use and that it did encourage customers to spend more.
“Other feedback suggested there could have been better promotion of the program.
“Delivery of the full $2 million program will take the experience of the trial into account, so we can ensure that the program delivers the greatest benefit to local business.”
Ms Cheyne defended the success of the program, touting figures that for every dollar of government investment during the trial, $6.30 was injected into the ACT economy, resulting in over $1.9 million of local economic stimulus.
Ms Cheyne also criticised Ms Castley for nor “reaching out” to provide feedback to her directly.
“Ms Castley has not provided me with any specific feedback or suggestions to improve the scheme,” she said.
“Just last week Ms Lee said her team would not oppose for opposition’s sake, yet that’s exactly what Ms Castley is doing in her criticisms of a scheme designed to support businesses.”
Responding to that, Ms Castley said she would “love to sit down with Minister Cheyne and small business groups to come up with solutions”.
“We are not opposing for the sake of it, rather ensuring Canberra businesses that are doing it tough are given the support they need.
“Has the Minister spoken with business owners with English as a second language? And what about businesses which do not have a shopfront?”
Leanne Castley stressed that the most important issue for her is that “we don’t throw good money after bad”.
“The government must stop wasting taxpayers’ money and actually ask small business what they need before spending more on this failed scheme,” she said.
“The Canberra Liberals are calling on the Minister to immediately meet the Canberra Business Chamber and small business groups to ask what they need.”
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