Much of the debate around border control in the latest Covid-19 lockdown has focused on the international borders.
Down here in Franklin, where my electorate is, we have been having our own significant border control issues.
It’s an absolute shambles at our border.
Since the start of lockdown, I (like many others) have been inundated with requests for help from people trying to cross from level 3 Auckland to level 2 North Waikato or vice versa.
I’ve been receiving up to 300 calls and emails a day from people trying to get clarification about whether they can travel to their jobs, homes, farms or businesses. Last time many were deemed ‘essential’ workers or services. This time the Government changed the rules and everyone has had to reapply for an ‘exemption’
My Facebook posts have recorded hundreds and hundreds of comments from people who are anxious, upset and confused by the lack of communication and inconsistent treatment at the border.
There is massive frustration at being turned back and with the significant delays when applying for Ministry of Health exemptions.
Many are ‘essential’ workers, such as the health & safety inspector whose company in Auckland faces closure because if she’s not on site to meet international food processing regulations and nurses and fire officers who have been hours late getting to work. Then there are the expectant Mums wondering if their husbands will be able to follow them across the border if they go in to labour.
I also repeatedly heard from farmers with looming animal welfare issues. These included farmers raising calves who can’t travel to make sure their animals are being fed twice a day and sheep farmers part-way through lambing who can’t get to their stock.
Then there are numerous businesses supplying essential equipment, supplies and services to major New Zealand companies.
This time we are definitely not “all in this together”.
For many of the small businesses in North Waikato and Franklin, all of this comes on top of significant cashflow problems following the first lockdown.
Back then, businesses relied on the wage subsidy that covered 50% of their wage costs but they got no rental support and still had to find the money to pay their overheads.
Many got by and survived scrimping and saving whatever they could. With the low level of trading, many have reached the limit of their cash reserves.
The Government is fond of using the word “pivot” when advising small businesses on how they might cope in this situation.
To “pivot” a business, however, not only requires a lot of investigation and planning – which takes time - but, most importantly, reorienting a business needs more cash. Many businesses simply do not have this financial capability.
It worries me that we will see a significant number of small companies going to the wall this time.
Those that do survive will likely find that the best – and possibly the only – way to survive will be to fire people. With the wage subsidy finishing in 10 days’ time, many employees are facing a bleak future.
But most insidious of all, I am also concerned about the mental health of our small business owners and their staff. Unfortunately, Franklin had already had its share of those unable to cope.
I am becoming increasingly aware that small business owners and their staff do not have the same access to mental health support networks that people working in larger organisations can more readily access. As National’s small business spokesperson it is an issue that I am giving priority to and we will be making an announcement on small business and mental health in the near future.
With the impact of Covid-19 on New Zealand, now more than ever, we have seen the connection between a strong economy, low unemployment and secure incomes in promoting better mental health. To improve mental health in New Zealand we need to get the economy going again, get people back into work and grow their income
As an electorate MP, and also as a member of my community, I am very worried about the current situation.
Andrew Bayly is MP for Hunua, and National’s spokesperson for Small Business and Manufacturing, Revenue, Commerce and State Owned Enterprises, and Associate Spokesperson for Finance.