“We lack trust in anything they’re saying”: 20% of SMEs think the government is working against them

SmartCompany, February 6, 2018

One in three Aussie small businesses believe the economy is growing, but they don’t believe the federal government is to thank for the successes of the SME sector.

The latest quarterly Sensis Business Index survey of more than 1000 small and medium business operators across the nation reveals that 29% of business owners believe the economy is growing, compared with 15% that see it as slowing.

This sentiment is the most positive assessment of the Aussie economy revealed by the survey since 2010, but it comes as SME attitudes towards the federal government enter negative territory for the first time since March last year.

Twenty percent of small businesses surveyed believe government policies are working against their success. This compares to 15% when the survey was last taken in the September quarter.

More smaller operators reported they now believe the government is too focused on the big end of town, with 18% of respondents sharing this view, compared with 13% in the September quarter.

The index shows there is also less enthusiasm for policies to lower tax rates across the board, with 9% of SMEs seeing tax cuts as a positive, compared with 11% last quarter.

But while the Sensis data may indicate less support for the federal government’s policies, founder of Disrupt Sports, Gary Elphick, tells SmartCompany the business world is just as concerned about the way the government communicates its messages.

“They’re doing some good stuff, but they’re just not telling us,” Elphick says.

Elphick believes there is a range of excellent government incentives for innovation, including the Export Market Development Grant Program. However, he says chopping and changing when it comes to the messages the government puts out about other policies has detracted from the faith SMEs have that the government is delivering for them.

“I think they have to just do something and then stick to it, because we lack trust in anything they’re saying,” he says.

One area where government policy has been causing angst to SMEs and startups is the government’s replacement the 457 skilled migration program. Elphick says it’s the unknowns about changes to the policy that are having the biggest impact on sentiment towards the government.

“I think we’re still being really hampered by the visa situation, and we’ve just turned down three really good candidates for jobs over it — there’s just so much unknown at the moment,” he says.

These views have been echoed by others in the small business and startup communities, who view changes to the program as a big hit to early-stage companies looking for global talent.

Beyond individual policies, however, Elphick says the government’s communications with businesses could use some work.

“Even with a lot of the grant processes, you look at them and go, ‘god, this is arduous’,” he says.

“Talk to us the way we talk — and the way we talk, we’re always marketing to millennials.”

Finance another pain point

The Sensis index for the December quarter also found smaller operators are finding it more difficult to access finance compared with last year.

When asked about how easy it is to access finance, the number of businesses reporting it was “easy” to access a loan decreased by 8% compared to the last quarterly survey, to 26%, while the number that found this process hard increased 4%, to 24%.

Co-founder of small business lender Prospa, Beau Bertoli, says it’s not surprising that SMEs feel “let down” in a world where banks may not always have their best interests at heart.

However, he observes that when it comes to access to finance, the federal government has been involved in policy moves that he believes are designed to help SMEs on this front.

“The mandated move towards open banking holds enormous promise for small businesses across the country. While the effects may not impact small businesses directly for a few months, the potential longterm benefits are immeasurable,” he says.

SmartCompany has contacted Small Business Minister Craig Laundy for comment but his office did not provide comment prior to publication.