Some highs and lows for small business budget outcomes
In an uncertain environment driven by many outside factors, small businesses are seeking stability and solid economic foundations to rebuild their businesses and grow jobs in the wake of the economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd said: “This budget delivers benefits for small business owners and sole traders in four key areas, namely: improved internet connectivity, small business mental health support, cost of living improvements to childcare support, and VET & skills planning. It is critical to ensure the benefits flow through to small businesses. They must be included in the design and implementation of all of these measures.
“Small business owners have been waiting for this budget to provide them with certainty of the business horizon so they can plan for their futures.
“As 98% of businesses in Australia are small and medium sized enterprises and a third of this group are sole traders, the small business sector is a major stakeholder in this budget and its impacts will be felt in almost every home across the country,” said Boyd.
“This is a relatively positive budget for small business. However, the implementation needs to include consultation with small business, so we don’t have unintended consequences for the sector that represents 2.4 million businesses and their employees.
“COSBOA and its members will continue to advocate for the issues affecting 98% of the business market – small and micro businesses, and ensure their voice is heard through the implementation phase of this budget.
“With rising inflation, increasing cost of doing business, the debt from the COVID-19 crisis, increasing interest rates and work force challenges, we need to ensure our small businesses are protected like never before.
“We look forward to working with the Government to build on this budget and to ensure stability and assurance for small businesses everywhere”, said Boyd.
$2.4 billion in NBN Co to extend fibre access to 1.5 million more premises and $1.2 billion for the Better Connectivity for Regional and Rural Australia Plan. COSBOA believes this is a positive step in meeting the needs of every small business.
“All businesses, regardless of their location, need connectivity to enhance their digital journey and to access critical online services needed to grow.
“Small businesses need reliable internet connectivity to run their businesses including engaging with customers, receiving payments, conducting online training and engage with the government. This is a positive step to recognising this need.”
Support for small business owners can come in the form of childcare support but COSBOA remains concerned about the lack of information about support for Before and After School Care. Many small business owners, particularly women, rely on this service to ensure they can work in their business for a full day. Too often there is an expectation that the small business owner can do school drop-offs and pickups, taking hours of productivity away from their business.
“COSBOA welcomes this sensible adjustment to the program that many small businesses rely on. The high cost of childcare is a career barrier for many female business owners – on whom the burden of at-home childcare still disproportionately falls even in the modern era.
“Lowering the cost of childcare will give women entrepreneurs more time and freedom to focus on running and growing their businesses.” However, it is important for these business owners that before and after school care is part of the conversation.
VET & SKILLS
Fee free TAFE & Vocational Ed
The Government is delivering 480,000 fee-free TAFE and community-based vocational education places over 4 years. As a first step, the Government is entering a $1 billion agreement with the states and territories to provide 180,000 places in 2023.
It is positive to see for sectors where TAFE doesn’t meet the needs of small business, private RTOs are considered an important part of the solution for small business.
Jobs & Skills Aust
The Government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia to strengthen the nation's workforce planning, help address workforce shortages and build long-term capacity in priority sectors. Jobs and Skills Australia will take a tripartite approach to workforce planning. This will help to better identify current and future skills and training needs by bringing together employers, employees, governments and training providers.
It's positive to see the Government has the intention to ensure small business representation on the JSA governance and working groups. We will continue to work with the Government to ensure that the skills need of small businesses are met.
Skilling the clean energy workforce
The Government is addressing growing skills demands in the clean energy sector by committing over $100 million to the New Energy Apprenticeships and New Energy Skills programs. The programs will help apprentices acquire necessary skills by developing a new mentoring program and providing up to $10,000 for each apprentice in a clean energy role.
COSBOA would hope any wraparound services would extend to other industries where apprenticeship retention and completion rates are waning.
The permanent Migration Program will be expanded to 195,000 in 2022–23. This is an increase of 35,000. More than 90 per cent of new places will be for skilled migrants, and more than a quarter targeted to regional areas.
COSBOA supports increasing the permanent migration program and additional funding for speeding up the processing times. Providing better pathways for permanent residency is critical, particularly for small businesses in regional areas where they are crying out for skilled migrants.
“COSBOA will continue to work with the government to ensure that the Migration Strategy meets the needs of the small business community. We want to ensure that the associations which represent small business are at the strategic end of workforce planning consultation.”
The Government will also provide additional support to help employers and employees reach agreements and resolve disputes, with improved access to arbitration for intractable disputes. Together with increased bargaining support for small business and an investment in the Fair Work Commission's expertise, more businesses will be supported to reach agreements with their employees that improve pay outcomes.
“Australia needs an IR system that is simpler and more accessible for small business to allow them with more flexibility and ease of employing people in ways that meets the modern workplace challengs,” Boyd said.
COSBOA continues to seek ways to make it easier and provide more practical support for small business to engage in flexible and appropriate workplaces so they can ultimately employ more people. Which is good for business, and good for the economy.
However, more work needs to be done to understand what the on-the-ground impacts will be of the legislation changes.
“We are focused on creating pathways to making the IR system more accessible to small businesses if they choose to opt in. However, it is the practical application of any changes that will be the test.
FIGHTING ONLINE SCAMS
Initial investment of $12.6 million over 4 years to combat scams and online fraud. This includes establishing a National Anti-Scam Centre and more funding for identity recovery services to support victims of identity theft to recover stolen credentials.
COSBOA is disappointed to see not enough consideration has been given to the real need improving cyber awareness and mitigating the risks for small businesses. In a recent survey of Reckon users 84% of respondents agreeing that more support was required to help small businesses digitise and combat cyber threats. The Government has yet to address this need for the small business community.
The Government is delivering on its election commitments as part of the more than $120 billion pipeline of investment in transport infrastructure over the next 10 years.
COSBOA welcomes this investment but would like to see a Placed Based Approach to consulting with small business communities to ensure the impact of construction is minimised, the project enhances rather than is destructive to small business communities and the future economic development impact is considered at the project design phase.
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT & DEBT COUNSELLING
Minster for Small Business Julie Collins announced ahead of the budget that the government will provide $10.9 million to the extension of the NewAccess for Small Business Owner Program, administrated by Beyond Blue which matches small business professionals with trained mental health staff and provides six sessions without the need for a GP referral or mental health plan. $4 million of new funding will go to the Small Business Debt Helpline, a free-to-use service offered by Financial Counselling Australia.
“In this ‘wellness’ budget, it is terrific to see an acknowledgement that our small business community has been doing it tough, and with the workforce shortages and rising inflation, there is seemingly a long way to go.
“We warmly welcome the funding of these programs and know they will be vital to support our small business operators going through hard times,” said Boyd.