Whakaari / White Island: eruption-hit Whakatāne businesses get detail on government grants

5:42 pm on 23 December 2019

More details have been announced about the financial support available for businesses affected the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

Peeni Henare, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Minister for Whānau Ora, and Youth.

Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare has confirmed the Government is contributing a further $50,000 to assist the Whakatāne community. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Last Monday, the Prime Minister announced a $5 million contingency fund for Whakatāne and the Westland community affected by recent flooding.

On Friday, $280,000 of this was committed to help fund a tourism marketing campaign for the West Coast.

Ministers have now confirmed that support for Whakatāne will consist of a Business Support Grants Programme, and expanded recovery coordination services for local, viable businesses that have been significantly and directly affected by the eruption.

MBIE economic development and transitions general manager Dean Ford said this initial package would help with short-term needs.

"We know the community is still grieving and people are also worried about how this is impacting businesses and jobs.

"As we head into the Christmas break, we want to provide certainty to impacted businesses," Mr Ford said.

The Eastern Bay of Plenty Chamber of Commerce will be the first point of contact for local businesses, and the grants will go through a streamlined approval process.

A panel with representatives appointed by the Whakatāne District Council, Ministry of Social Development, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa will approve grants for the programme.

Mr Ford said this will help support businesses continue operating over the summer period.

"For instance if you've got rent payments or staff costs, or things like that, that you just can't avoid, then that's what the system's set up for.

"In other cases it could be for professional services, for example, say if a business had a mortgage payment that was due, it can be better actually to get the services of an accountant to maybe get a payment holiday or refinance your loan rather than just getting funds," he said.

Mr Ford said businesses can apply from today but it could take a few weeks to convene the panel to approve grants.

Eligibility criteria includes that a business was viable, and suffered a substantial, significant income drop due to the eruption, paid employees at least the minimum wage, and provided a significant source of income to the business owner.

Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chief executive, Leonie Simpson, has welcomed the programme and said it will offer some relief at a very challenging time.

"There was a lot of work carried out in a short space of time to put this case forward to the Government, and we acknowledge that their quick action will support our communities in the immediate term," Ms Simpson said.

Whakatane District Council chief executive, Steph O'Sullivan, echoed Ms Simpson's comments, and said that the road to recovery should not be travelled alone.

"There are a number of organisations that are working together to provide and facilitate the assistance that is needed at this time including the Eastern Bay of Plenty Chamber of Commerce," Ms O'Sullivan said.

Eastern Bay of Plenty Chamber of Commerce vice president, Warren Short, said the assistance had been gratefully welcomed by the business community.

"This support programme is very much needed and we are pleased to be working with MBIE and others to facilitate this support for our affected businesses," Warren Short said.

MBIE and Tourism New Zealand will also conduct an analysis to understand the ramifications of the Whakaari/White Island eruption for the wider tourism industry.

Businesses in Westland affected by recent flooding are still also able to talk to the Westland Chamber of Commerce about any support they feel they need.

Meanwhile, Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare has confirmed the Government is contributing a further $50,000 to assist the Whakatāne community with immediate needs following the eruption.

"There have also been flow on effects for the Whakatāne community, and in particular local iwi, who are shouldering the costs associated with undertaking cultural protocols, and caring for family and whanau of the deceased who have travelled to the region in the last week," Mr Henare said.

"I have seen first-hand the tremendous support and manaakitanga Ngāti Awa have provided, such as providing food and accommodation for extended families and whānau and a number of other visitors. Many families have commented on how important and special that was to them."

The contribution will be made to the Whakatāne District Council Mayoral Relief Fund and follows an earlier Government contribution of $50,000 to the fund.