SMEs pull out election checklists

With the general election less than a month away, politicians are are in full campaign mode and small and medium business owners are high on their agenda.

"Politicians are not only out there kissing babies but kissing business people," BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said.

A BusinessNZ pre-election research paper identified five key election topics affecting small and medium enterprises (SMEs): Tax and interest rate increases; skilled labour shortages; regulation compliance costs; improved employment regulation; and better performance by local government.

A survey of more than 1000 small and medium businesses by accounting software business MYOB showed most would oppose a range of policies including scrapping the 90-day trial period for new employees, introducing a capital gains tax, raising the superannuation age to 67 and introducing GST for offshore purchases made online.

More than half would support controlling foreign investment in New Zealand land and infrastructure.

For regional businesses the most popular policy any party could focus on was reducing the cost of unlimited broadband, which 76 per cent of operators would support.

Fairfax Media asked three small businesses what issues they were most interested in.

Auckland company Art of Produce co-owners Terry Lewell and Aldo Di-Cesare said rising interest was their main concern.

"All it does is makes money more expensive for businesses," Lewell said.

Located in Grey Lynn, Art of Produce has 20 staff and supplies fresh produce to restaurants and cafes around Auckland.

Increasing the minimum wage would result in added costs to absorb, Lewell said. "I would like to pay them more, I really would, but the reality is it's difficult."

While most staff were KiwiSaver members, making the scheme compulsory would also be an added cost as well, he said.

Recent fallout from Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics had been an unfortunate distraction from election issues, he said.

Christchurch building company JD Homes owner Jesse DeWys said it was important for National to be re-elected to keep the Christchurch rebuild on track.

"I would like to see status quo really," DeWys said.

A shortage in skilled labour was a challenge for the construction industry, while increased health and safety rules and regulation were welcome, he said.

Lower Hutt general engineering company HG Ingham owner Gary Ingham said there was nothing coming up that was "too worrying for a small outfit like us". The Government had done well keeping things "on an even keel", he said.

The nearly 60-year-old company with four staff had no outstanding debt and survived 20 per cent interest rates in the late 1980s, so current increases were not a huge concern, Ingham said.

"We've been through the highs and lows before. You just learn to take things as you go."

O'Reilly said the most effective way for SME owners to have a say on election policies was to engage with groups who could lobby on their behalf, such as industry associations, unions, chambers of commerce or BusinessNZ.

"Using a collective voice really matters quite a lot because a politician or political party will tend to react to what they perceive as a real and measurable issue," O'Reilly said. Fairfax NZ

The Press