The Election ’08 Business wish list
As we head towards the 2008 general election, a panel of eight business owners, advocates and observers reveal exactly what wishes they want granted by the next Government. See if you agree. By Ruth Le Pla.
What do owner/managers of small and medium size businesses want from the next government: whatever its political hue? As New Zealand heads towards nationwide elections, we asked those who own or manage SMEs (small and medium enterprises), plus people in the wider business community, to spell out to the incoming government their wish list for doing better business. Reckon you’ve heard a lot of their concerns before? All the more reason, then, why they should be addressed. So we make no apologies if some of these ideas don’t come as a bolt from the blue. When Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly shared his six-point wish list with us, he agreed that there was little he hadn’t already said before. O’Reilly reckons he talks with at least 100 SME owner/managers every month and his wish list is an amalgamation of their collective thoughts. “All the issues I’ve raised are pretty common ones,” he says. “What you see, though, is change over time in terms of the volume or the passion with which they are raised.” For example? Well, problems with compliance costs have been hovering near the top of the list for the past two or three years. Now, according to O’Reilly, they’re once again centre stage alongside angst over skills shortages and the heavy tax burden. Alongside the informed business advocates and observers, we invited a panel of SME owner/managers to share their views with us. Many of the people we spoke to are at the working edge of government policy. What gets decided in the Beehive impacts directly on their daily working lives. Their collected thoughts are outlined below. Some members of the panel identified issues that are specific to SMEs. Others, such as Crash Brokers’ director Karen Knight, targeted much broader concerns. “I ultimately had to concede that the main issues of concern to me are probably quite generic so may not be specific to SMEs,” she says. “Nevertheless, I think the impact on SMEs is more significant than on larger organisations.” Paul Minett, managing director of Trip Convergence, notes that the breadth of his views reflects the wide number of roles that he plays in business. He is, for example: A co-founder and co-owner of a carpooling business that to date is ‘pre-revenue’; the owner and sole employee of a business strategy consultancy; a director and chairman, though not a shareholder, of a specialist machining business; and strategic advisor to a number of small and large businesses. In a similar vein, New Zealand Institute CEO David Skilling told us he wouldn’t bang on about compliance costs and tax: “Not that they’re not important, but they’re the usual suspects”. Instead, Skilling told us he wanted to focus on structural priorities which, he thought, would help fuel significant growth for the SME sector over the next decade or so. Skilling also argued that we need to develop a clear sense as a country of the importance of business success and the preconditions to making that happen. “If you don’t have that broad understanding you are going to either do nothing or lurch from one extreme to another,” he says. “So if businesses – be they small or large – want to have policies that are supportive and encouraging of growth there is a need for a broader-based understanding of the importance of business than there is at the moment.” Skilling believes it is much harder to make progress on tax or savings, or any of the other points that people may raise, until we have that built-in constituency. “For my money, that’s probably one of the most important things we could do because otherwise you put something in place and then five years later it gets reversed or watered down. “That’s a softer, almost a process, recommendation,” he says. “But even though it’s softer my increasing sense is that it’s one of the really important ingredients.” And finally, don’t underestimate the passion with which these sentiments are felt. As Karen Knight said to us as she finalised her list of concerns: “I’m angry now, but I hope this assists your research.” Now turn the page for the wish lists.
chief executive, Business
Things like the RMA, local government levies, charges, rules, or the Building Act will often have a very significant impact on SMEs as they try to grow their businesses. You often find their relationship with local government is more intense than it is for large business and, of course, they have to deal with it all themselves.