This city's HR leaders worry about 'underwhelming budget' for local businesses

Group asserts it is not 'looking for handouts' amid struggles

This city's HR leaders worry about 'underwhelming budget' for local businesses

Different employers across industries in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) recently expressed their concerns over what they project as the state government’s “underwhelming budget” for local businesses.

In a media release from the Canberra Business Chamber (Chamber), the group said that “more investment is needed to support and protect the local businesses,” which would in turn “drive economic diversity, job creation and sustainable economic growth.”

The struggles of businesses

The employers pointed out that more investment would be crucial since many of them struggle with skills shortages and “rampant” cost increases. The group also cited the country’s continuous shortages of supplies and workers.

“There are 31,500 private businesses in the ACT,” the Chamber’s CEO Graham Catt said in a media release. “The vast majority – around 97% – are small enterprises employing fewer than 20 people and are the passion and the life’s work of their owners. It is these businesses, not the public sector, that now provide over 63% of the territory’s jobs.”

The group also highlighted the ACT government’s previous remark about the “strength” of the state’s labour market, noting that skills and workforce shortages are still “very real indeed and a huge problem” for businesses.

“The number of vacancies is almost double the number of people seeking work, and this is a real handbrake on economic growth.  Businesses can’t find staff. They are running out of options, and some local companies have no choice but to move interstate,” Catt said.

‘Unchartered territory’

The Chamber has pointed out the state’s budget, including $22.4 million for initiatives that aim to develop “knowledge-intensive sectors,” saying that there is “little detail” as to its delivery or extent of involvement needed from the said industries.

The group remarked that its members are “concerned” that the ACT government’s recent actions show its belief that “local businesses no longer need support,” even though the contrary is what they experience to be true.

“Small businesses are increasingly in unchartered territory, with unemployment at record lows, the staff they need costs simply unattainable, and costs and inflation hitting record highs,” Catt emphasised.

‘We need more’

Catt further called on the state that businesses “need more than a marketing plan,” saying that investments in “workforce attraction” should be prioritized as a “critical” measure, together with “a clear plan for future workforce” that is reliant and anchored on data about the “number and nature” of Canberra businesses.

“That means working with local industries to set clear targets, developing education and training in the ACT, as well as strategies to attract skilled people in specialist areas,” he said.

“Local businesses aren’t looking for handouts, or miracle fixes to complex global problems like labour shortages,” Catt added. “But they do expect private sector investment that demonstrates an appreciation of their significance to economic recovery, and of the scale and impact of the challenges they currently face,” he said.

What kind of support? 

The Chamber explained that the “most impacted” sectors by COVID-19 should be urgently helped, starting with the state’s tourism industry. However, the group also asserted that while help in the said sector is “badly needed,” other businesses in a range of sectors
also need support “to adapt and manage the challenging economic conditions ahead.”

“Businesses will need support to transition their operations in line with ambitious policy initiatives such as a transition to a net zero economy,” the Chamber maintained. “And as local businesses struggle with labour shortages, every hour they spend on unnecessary regulatory processes is an hour lost to customers, employees, innovation and growth,” Catt said.

“We need to fast track reforms that take the pain out of business interactions with government and make it easier to start and grow a business in Canberra,” he added.

As for the numerous infrastructure projects lined up for the state, which include the Canberra Hospital Expansion, CIT Woden Campus and Bus Interchange, the Chamber said that it “welcomes these projects” but “wants to see supporting policies to ensure that money will be spent with local companies to deliver them.”

“We will be missing out on the benefits if the government funds out-of-town businesses to do this work. Let’s support the investment with policies mandating local procurement,” Catt said.

“There is an urgent need for longer-term thinking about how to manage key areas like skills, education, regulation, taxation and planning to support economic growth and job creation,” the media release stated.

“The world is changing rapidly, and the national capital is competing globally and domestically for the business investment and skills we need. Clear plans, developed through genuine engagement with industry, will be critical to our future,” Catt added.

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