Mayor calls on farmers to return unneeded subsidy

Bryan Cadogan. Photo: ODT files
Bryan Cadogan. Photo: ODT files
A southern mayor says some farmers have a ‘‘moral responsibility’’ to refund Covid-19 wage subsidies.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan contacted the Otago Daily Times to raise concerns some farmers in the South had claimed ‘‘tens of thousands’’ of dollars from the Government scheme, when their businesses were unlikely to suffer significantly as a result of the recent lockdown.

He said the scheme was specific in requiring a business to show a minimum 30% decline in actual or predicted revenue over the period of any month from January to June this year, compared with the same month last year.

For most farms, that would not be the case, he believed.

‘‘Some farms may have experienced stock processing bottlenecks, but prices have held and their operations have continued during lockdown.

‘‘It’s not the same as a wee high street cafe where revenues have dropped to zero.

‘‘Any business that doesn’t now need the subsidy has a moral responsibility to pay it back.’’

A North Otago farmer is among those heeding that call.

EGL Pastoral director Grant Ludemann said his Windsor sheep and beef operation had claimed about $177,000 in subsidies for 26 staff when the lockdown began.

He said yesterday his business was now paying that sum back in full to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

‘‘Nobody knew how long or how severe the lockdown would be at the outset, so we claimed the subsidy just in case.

‘‘It’s been bloody difficult ... but we’ve got through, so now is the right time to pay it back.’’

He said he was aware some saw farmers claiming the subsidy as a ‘‘moral judgement’’.

‘‘It’s a sensitive issue, but the Government made the rules.’’

Other southern farms researched by the ODT using the MSD wage subsidy search tool had made claims ranging from $20,000 to $250,000, although the majority had not claimed any subsidy.

Federated Farmers national vice-president Andrew Hoggard, who runs a Feilding dairy farm, said many farms would have needed the subsidy.

‘‘We’re aware of concerns in this area, but have also been informed of farms down 50% in revenues during lockdown.

‘‘Every farm is different and faces different challenges, so there just can’t be a blanket policy.

‘‘The Government made it available, so farm businesses, like other businesses, were eligible, and applied.’’

The MSD had said businesses which found they did not need, or were not eligible for the subsidy should repay surplus funds as soon as possible.

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