The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

SME Chamber lobbying for more aid ‘but reality is no government can sustain all costs and jobs‘

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 3 December 2020, 08:18 Last update: about 3 months ago

With bars and clubs remaining closed, the Malta Chamber of SMEs is lobbying for more aid, but the reality is that there is a limit to how much the government can help as no government can economically sustain all businesses' costs and jobs alone, the Chamber’s Deputy President Philip Fenech told The Malta Independent 

At the end of October, the government had announced that bars and clubs are to remain closed until 1 December in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19 prior to the Christmas season.

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However, as November drew to a close, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that bars and entertainment venues will remain closed for the “coming weeks” given the current situation.

The Malta Independent spoke with Fenech, who handles the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors for the Chamber of SMEs, to see what this means for bar and club owners.

“With regard to this industry, one has to look at the whole situation since the start of the pandemic in Malta, which has been 'stop and go',” he said.

First, there was the complete closure in March and then when we opened, demand for tourism went down because other countries were experiencing their own Covid-19 situations, which saw a decrease in consumer confidence. We then started up again for a while in August, but clubs had to close down while bars remained open. Then later bars closed again. Thus, consumer confidence declined once more as Covid-19 figures went up.”

It was a blow from all angles, he said. However, all in all, he believes that the industry is resilient and all the government support was of great importance in keeping it afloat.

He said that it was good to hear the Prime Minister saying that businesses which did not fully benefit from the wage supplement scheme back in March, are being included in the new revision of the scheme.

He also mentioned other benefits like the MTA licensing issue, the discount on water and electricity bills, the bank moratoria and most prominently, the vouchers. 

Asked if the chamber knows of any further aid the government plans to provide bar and club owners to help them cope with the closure, Fenech said that the chamber is always lobbying for further aid to support these businesses.

“We are lobbying with the government to help as much as it can through the postponement or wavering of expenses and also to help directly financially. But the thing is this; there is a limit to how much governments can help, it is not economically possible for any government to carry the cost base of every business or guarantee every job.”

He said that the current attitude is that “we should be reaching the end now.” While nothing will recover overnight, the engine has started to accelerate and luckily there were businesses that, in the middle of all this, still managed to do well while others grew, he added.

“Let's close the year with all its difficulties and look at 2021 as a year of recovery, without starting it on the wrong foot as that would ruin all national projections,” he said, making reference to the chamber’s call for solidarity during the festive season earlier this week.

“We do not want to diminish all the effort and sacrifice that the entertainment and hospitality industries, as well as the public in general, are making.”

“We know there is hype and people are getting frustrated, but this is the end of the tunnel before we start recovering, so let's not prolong the recovery unnecessarily causing more hardships on jobs, lives and increasing people's frustrations.”

“What is important is for us help create the demand for business in the first place. As such, adhering to the Covid-19 guidelines and following the rules will lead to a swift recovery in the new year, which is required.”

On a concluding note, Fenech said that apart from being jobs and peoples livelihoods, these businesses are also important holistically for tourism, as each product gives its value added to the national product.

“It breaks my heart to see places having to close and I hope that they open again as every establishment has its own character and is part of the colour we give to the industry in its totality.”

 

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