The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) is working with Austrade to revise the $50 million Business Events Grants program, Spice News can confirm.
Announced by the Federal Government in September 2020, the grant was designed to provide targeted support and drive confidence back into the business events sector.
BECA has been working closely with the government on the design and implementation of program, on behalf of the various industry bodies.
Speaking to Spice News, BECA chair Vanessa Findlay says the council initially held some concerns about the program and is now working alongside Austrade to make some adjustments to the criteria.
“[In 2020], we spent a lot of time working with Austrade to refine the design of the grants program and we did hold concerns around some of the design elements that had been agreed by the government, as to how they would apply and how they would roll out,” she said.
“What we’re seeing now is that with the additional COVID blip at the end of December and January, there has been a loss of business confidence and the uptake of the grants program has been compromised.
“So we’re currently working through a process with Austrade and the government around a revision to the grants guidelines and the grants criteria, which will hopefully take account of that shifting and changing operating environment and allow for the $50 million to be expended in the most efficient and effective way, giving us the very best outcomes we can to restart as many business events as possible.”
Criticism mounts over grant criteria
The news follows growing criticism of the fund from the industry, including an open letter written by Pause Fest founder George Hedon to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for the government to widen the “very narrow” criteria for accessing the fund.
Hedon said his virtual business and creative festival Pause Fest was originally included in the Schedule of Approved Business Events, before being removed.
“Given the current eligibility bar is so high, very few events in Australia will be able to fulfil the obligations and receive the support they need,” he said.
“In framing this program, the government has not fully considered the ongoing impact of the pandemic; in particular, in-person events should not be the only option considered for support.”
Hedon is calling for a number of changes to be made to the program including lowering the minimum company spend to $10,000 (currently $20,000), including one-day and half-day seminars that have business content but are not an exhibition, including online events in the grant program, increasing sponsorship limit to at least $50,000, and increasing flexibility around pandemic-affected areas.
He believes these changes will open the funding up to more small- and medium-sized businesses, rather than just large companies.
Concerns over who benefits from the fund
Findlay said BECA also held concerns initially about the funding not reaching smaller event businesses, some of which are still seeing 70-100 per cent loss of revenue due to COVID-19.
“That was one of the things that made us a little nervous about the original design of the program – the focus on businesses attending the business event rather than the business event itself,” she told Spice News.
“And we’ve always held the view that for the benefits of business events to be realised, a business event must happen.
“So we were always seeking to get that balance right between providing the confidence for a business event owner to proceed with planning, booking and holding a business event, and providing support for businesses who have also been hurt by COVID, to allow them to actually come to the business event.
“Getting that balance right has been our focus and is the focus of this review that’s going on at the moment.”
BECA seeks changes to criteria
BECA would like to see changes to the criteria to allow a broader range of events to be considered for the Scheduled List of Business Events, as well as a revision of spending requirements.
“We’re hoping that we can extend the timeline around when a business event could be held, and we’d really like greater clarity around the definition of a business event owner versus a delegate and exhibitor,” said Findlay.
“Then also looking at some changes to the caps on the grants, so reducing the amount that people have to spend to qualify for the grant and maybe increasing some of the things like sponsorship so that we’re getting more money flowing through the right channel that will get to more of the supply chain end of the business events industry.”
Findlay said she is positive about how the grants program will benefit the sector, if suitable changes are made.
“That’s why we’re spending so much time and effort in helping government and government decision-makers to understand that that shift in the operating environment, that loss of business confidence at the end of last year has really led to a critical need to review how the grant is going to be rolled out,” she said.
“[Discussions have] developed really well this week and we’re hoping to be able to talk in more detail about some of the things that are being contemplated and some of the changes that we hope we’ll see come through quite quickly,” she said.
Austrade were contacted for this story but did not respond before the time of publishing.