Harley: CBD exodus killing small business

• Reece Harley and Crib Lane cafe owner Michael Ivanoff back in June.

A FORMER City of Perth councillor has implored the McGowan government to stop pulling public servants out of the CBD.

Reece Harley was a councillor from 2012 to 2020, and now back on the campaign trail says a common call from city traders is the need for office workers to help them stay afloat. 

Covid-19 hit them hard, but even before that the city’s retailers and hospitality businesses were feeling empty nest syndrome. 

Crib Lane cafe owner Michael Ivanoff says “they’re killing us at the moment with these exoduses.

“The more departments that leave, it keeps on affecting us.”

From state government moves to work-from-home policies to the mining bust’s effect on corporate numbers, he says “every time something happens, the city gets hit the hardest”.

This month in parliament Greens upper house MP Alison Xamon quizzed the McGowan government on the number of office workers who’d been shipped out of the CBD in recent years.

Labor’s Sue Ellery responded that the number of full time-equivalent public servants in the CBD has dropped from about 17,000 in 2013 to about 15,000 as of March this year, largely as a result of the previous Barnett government’s decentralisation agenda. But those numbers don’t account for the latest relocations with hundreds more moving to Fremantle’s Kings Square in recent months. 

Workers spend about $11,000 a year on city businesses, so it’s a big dent in a struggling economy.

“City traders have been really hurting in recent years with thousands of public servants moving out of the city due to the previous state government’s public sector policy,” Mr Harley said.

“Given the impact of Covid-19 it’s essential that the McGowan government halts any plans that bureaucrats might have to move their departments out of the city.

“Our city is going through an office vacancy and retail crisis right now. The state government can play a fundamental role in supporting the city’s office accommodation market, and protect the livelihoods of the thousands of small business owners that rely on office-worker trade.”

In August Mr Harley wrote to finance minister Ben Wyatt calling on a halt to any further movements, noting talk amongst city traders was that another department was contemplating a move mid-next year. 

He urged them to pause any more moves until they could assess the full impact of Covid-19 on office vacancies.

He got a response via the finance department. It doesn’t veto further moves, but it says they’re aware of the economic challenges and “there is currently no locational imperative to decentralise government agencies from the City of Perth with no major decentralisations in progress”. 

Mr Harley says “the department’s response doesn’t fill me with confidence. City traders need a direct and unequivocal commitment from the state government to support the city and halt the exodus of public servants to the suburbs”. 

by DAVID BELL

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