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Action, not spin, needed by SMEs

A message from small business

Action, not spin, needed by SMEs

A great deal of planning has gone into a series of 'small business days' starting this week. The series kicks off in Wellington and carries through to May, stopping at 24 urban areas on the way. An expo celebrating business and appearances by the Prime Minister and Government MPs are all aimed at showing how Government cares about small business.

The roadshow will be reinforced by a package of goodies to be announced by the Government that have been in the pipeline for varying amounts of time. A number of these might actually help some small businesses grow. This is critical - New Zealand is a country of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and their performance is crucial for economic growth and the aim of getting living standards back in the OECD top 10.

But we already know what small businesses want - they want the issues that are blocking growth to be fixed. The problem is that resolving those issues falls outside Government policy. Small businesses should grab the opportunity of visiting media and politicians to ask why issues like tax, the RMA and employment law aren't being resolved.

Here are ten questions that small businesses could usefully ask when the roadshow comes to town:

1. High taxes

With tax revenue running at 35% of GDP, New Zealand now has the highest tax burden of any non-European OECD country, and one of the highest company tax rates in the Asia-Pacific region. Other countries are cutting their company tax rates to attract investment - why can't New Zealand?

2. Employment legislation is anti-jobs growth

The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill will restrict business owners' rights and freedoms, give unnecessarily wide powers to unions and discourage employers from taking on staff. How will this help small businesses?

3. Holidays Act complicated, costly

The complicated new Holidays Act requires employers to pay time and a half and provide an alternative day for work on public holidays, even for those on salaries, while requiring an extra week's annual leave for many. Why not let employers and employees agree on extra holidays rather than imposing it on many businesses that can't afford it?

4. Safe workplaces not rewarded

Small businesses with excellent workplace safety records relative to their industries get no recognition from ACC through lower levies. Why not?

5. Electricity costs are escalating

Electricity prices keep increasing, despite the fact that the country has plentiful coal and hydro resources. The Resource Management Act and misguided Kyoto policy are blocking the development of coal- and water-generated electricity. Why can't we use these resources to power the economy?

6. Roading not good enough

Additional charging for transport runs the risk of being diverted to public transport systems, propping up rail or being unspent due to delays in planning and consultation. How critical is an effective national roading network?

7. RMA holding back development

The Resource Management Act continues to cause delays and obstruct development - roads, power plant and commercial developments get held up or ditched altogether because of the improper use of the RMA. Why hasn't the RMA been fixed?

8. Rates burden

Local body rates have been rising at twice the rate of inflation and businesses that pay half the rates nationwide because of business differentials are shouldering more than their fair share. What pressure will be placed on local government to reverse this trend?

9. Skilled workers desperately needed

Shortages of skilled workers are holding small businesses back from improving productivity and expanding. Many employees suffer from a lack of management expertise and skill. Where's the strategy to improve New Zealand's business environment to make it worthwhile for skilled people to stay here?

10. Negative attitudes to business

Many New Zealanders have negative attitudes towards business and fail to identify either the role business plays in creating a good economy or why a good economy matters to their quality of life. Why won't the Government promote an enterprise culture instead of a 'blame the bosses' culture?

Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. If the Government is really serious about encouraging small businesses, it needs to do more than pose for the photographers.

Small businesses need to grow and prosper to pay for the health, education and social outcomes that all New Zealanders need. It's that simple.

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