By Sacha Delfosse

The Greens City of Sydney Councillor, Chris Harris, has spoken out against the council's Finegrain Business Development Matching Grant Program, which he believes is an improper use of ratepayer money.

Councillor Harris explained that although he supports the small bars industry, and would like to see more small bars opening in Sydney, he opposes the current City of Sydney council policy of giving grants of $30,000 to individual small bars.

“I think direct financial support is improper, I don’t think that’s a proper use of public money now that’s not to say I don’t support the industry, what I’m saying is giving $30,000 to an individual entrepreneur, I don’t think is the way to go,” Harris told TheShout.

“I’m not opposed to creating a grant category to promote business in the city at all and when it comes to small bars I’m quite happy to have a grant category for them but giving it to individuals is not the right way to go.”

He points out that only a small number of small bars that have opened in the past 18 months have actually received a grant from the council, which according to Harris highlights the fact the $30,000 grants are not necessary to encourage the growth of small bars.

“I don’t know what the latest total is but my guess would be that in the past 18 months we’ve approved around 30 small bars,” he said.

”Compared to that we’ve approved five grants, and not all of them are small bars, some are licensed cafes.

“I’ve been a businessman all my life, for 30 years I’ve had my own business, and if I'm going to go into a venture with somebody I’m not going to do it because someone offers me a $30,000 grant, and in the case of a bar this won’t go very far.”

Harris contends that, rather than hand out grants to individual small bars, the money should be used to promote all small bars and he believes the various events, functions and festivals the council holds each year are a perfect vehicle.

“We have events or official functions and all sorts other things that we can use to offer the opportunity to visit these small bars,” Harris said.

“I would rather see the city spend $200,000 on promoting small bars through the events we already do or even design events targeted to draw people to small bars.”

The Council held a VIP Reception for guests at Grasshopper Bar as part of last year’s Art & About Festival, which Councillor Harris highlights as an example his preferred way of supporting small bars.

However, Grasshopper is one of the Sydney small bars to receive the type of grant Councillor Harris is opposed to, something he claims to have shared with Martin O’Sullivan, one of Grasshopper’s co-founders.

“I said to the guy from Grasshopper, I actually don’t support the grant we gave you and he said to me ‘we couldn’t open without that grant’, and I don’t believe that,” Harris said.

”I’m not saying he’s lying, but I had a look at that bar, and I don’t know what the fit-out costs were, but it looked like at least $250,000 was spent. I really don’t think the $30,000 would have made much of difference to that particular operator.”

”This is not criticism of Martin as he has a good operation and seems like a nice bloke. I have no problem with him; my problem is with the handing out of $30,000 grants.”


The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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