UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Light rail works on Hunter Street. Picture: Max Mason-HubersIN my opinion the only thing embarrassing about recent council meetings (“Lord Mayor’s ‘business bashing’ embarrassing”, Opinion 29/3) has been the performance of John Church, who seems to not actually understand his role as a councillor.
What the people of Newcastle expect from council is the transparent and prudent use of ratepayer funds. If councillors suspect that ratepayers’ funds are not being spent in the most efficientmanner, it is absolutely our job to call it out, and to make no apologies for doing so.
I absolutely respect the role of small businesses in our CBD, they are the engine room of our local economy.I do, however, have some concerns about how ratepayers funds are being spent by Newcastle Business Improvement Association (Newcastle NOW), and I stand by my strong and public scrutiny of their ongoing performance.It might trouble readers to know that Newcastle NOW received a little over $900,000 of ratepayer funds in the last financial year and more than $425,000 of that was spent on wages alone.In 2016, they received almost $1 million from ratepayers and spent very close to $500,000 on wages.With only four staff on the books, I think thesesums speak for themselves.
The reality is that the construction of the light rail by the state government has taken its toll, with some businesses already making the tough decision to close up shop.
Right now, businesses in the Newcastle CBD are absolutely struggling.
While I’ve called on the state government to act to help these local businesses to survive, more needs to be done.
Theyneed strong advocacy, as well as proactive campaigning to encourage the people of Newcastle to visit our vibrant small businesses in the Newcastle CBD, to help support them through this tough time.
Unfortunately, I’m yet to see such a campaign from Newcastle NOW and I fear it is probably already too late.
In January, Newcastle NOW called a public meeting with the NSW Small Business Commissioner to open a dialogue between the NSW government and businesses trading in the CBD.
At this meeting, Newcastle NOW resolved to establish a working group that would be the unified voice of inner-city traders affected by recent disruption.
When Newcastle NOW presented to the elected council this month, the working group was yet to meet. It is simply unacceptable that this promised working group did not meet within this timeframe.
Late last year, the board of Newcastle NOW told me that a park and ride was essential for the survival of businesses in the CBD. When Newcastle City Council delivered our park andride not a cent was spent by Newcastle NOW to promote an initiative that is keeping hundreds of cars out of the CBD every single day, and freeing up those valuable car parks for patrons of local businesses.
So it certainly surprisesme that Cr Church was ’embarrassed’ when I questioned senior members of Newcastle NOW in the open council chamber about what they are actually doing to help our local businesses – the very businesses that the organisation is supposed to help thrive.
I think it’s critically important to question the spending of public funds on business improvement and I make no apologies for that, nor do my fellow Labor councillors.
It’s just disappointing that John Church and his fellow independent councillors don’t feel the same way.
Nuatali Nelmes is the lord mayor of Newcastle.