The Cyclone Gabrielle Business Recovery Fund, launched on 2 March and delivered by the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, is wrapping up after allocating more than $22 million to local businesses.

This funding was delivered on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

In a statement put out by the Chamber on Thursday, chief executive Karla Lee said the process had been a challenging endeavour but staff had demonstrated an “unwavering commitment to supporting the local business community”.

“Acting with urgency, the Chamber established a rapid response system and developed a dedicated platform to cater to the needs of businesses across Hawke’s Bay, spanning from Wairoa to Central Hawke’s Bay.

“Throughout the process, the Chamber maintained open lines of communication, ensuring that businesses had a dedicated phone line to address their concerns and enquiries. Thousands of phone calls and emails were received and addressed, allowing the Chamber to remain connected to the business community and gain valuable insights into their immediate needs.”

The amount required for the third tranche of money had been an estimate, however, which resulted in a surplus of about $8 million that had to be returned to Wellington.

Lee said money had been allocated according to a strict set of requirements, including the closure of applications on 3 April and the inability to accept or reassess applications thereafter.

However, there was frustration among parts of the flood-affected business community, particularly from those who had applied but not received the amount they had asked for. 

There was also skepticism around the fact that as a private organisation the Chamber was not subject to the Official Information Act, meaning decision making processes could not be discovered. 

Speaking to BayBuzz, National’s candidate for Napier MP Katie Nimon said the Chamber had been put in a difficult position by MBIE, which she said was “dodging a bullet”. 

“[The Chamber] play a really important part in our community and they shouldn’t be villainised.”

Primary sector grants had been administered directly by MPI, but the business recovery fund was disbursed through a local delivery partner instead, which could have perceived bias. If money had been disbursed at the national level, it would have been seen as a more objective process, Nimon said.

BayBuzz asked the Chamber if they felt they were the right delivery partner in light of this. Lee responded that the Chamber cared about all businesses in the region and had undertaken the project for the right reasons. 

“We implemented an independent assessment panel, in line with Government recommendations, and ensured there was no bias present in decision-making. Every application was carefully considered against criteria that supplied a clear framework and guidelines for each decision,” she said.

Eligibility criteria had been set by MBIE, but what was not known was how the amounts of money applicants received had been decided. BayBuzz also put this question to the Chamber, but this was not disclosed. However, Lee did expand on one of the eligibility criteria:

“Applicants needed to prove that their business was financially viable both before and after Cyclone Gabrielle. Some businesses who did not plan to reopen after the cyclone, or may have been unable to do so due to extensive damage, would have been ineligible. While we wanted to help everyone get back to business as usual, we are very aware that the funds came from taxpayers, therefore needed to be handled with care.”

There had been a focus on a small percentage of applicants who were not happy, but the majority had been grateful as the funding helped save their businesses, she said.

Lee said she would like to see the $8 million coming back to Hawke’s Bay in the form of further recovery support for the region and that the Chamber took pride in the role it had played. She extended its appreciation to the local business community for its trust in the Chamber. 

“The Chamber will continue to advocate for your needs and work tirelessly to contribute to the region’s economic recovery and growth.” 

Nimon also said the money should be come back to the Bay, if it had originally earmarked for the region.

“It could be used to help those businesses who are zoned in Category 3. They may have suffered the fate of the viability criteria. No one knows that for sure, how applications were decided and who got what. 

“But given the fate is in someone else’s hands for those businesses, my recommendation is that we look at how we can support businesses in those areas that now have a completely different set of challenges. Can they still operate in that area, do they need help relocating? If we can give them funding to re-establish elsewhere then we should.”

Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand on Air.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *