Start-ups call for small business ombudsman

SMEs are increasingly dissatisfied with politicians’ performances and would like to see the appointment of a small business ombudsman to better represent their interests, according to a new survey.


The second annual Back to Business Survey, commissioned by Telstra Business and the Council of Small Business of Australia, found small business confidence is significantly lower than it was a year ago.


The survey reveals only 21% of small business owners believe economic conditions are better now than they were six months ago, compared to 42% in 2009.


Almost a third of respondents expect the economy to worsen before mid-year, an increase of 13%, while 23% expect an improvement.


Not surprisingly, the prospect of higher interest rates is of concern to 44% of small businesses, while the cost of government compliance, finance and tax reform are also worrying factors.


Alarmingly, none of the political parties received a pass mark for their handling of small business issues; the Coalition scored 4.6 out of 10 and Labor scored 3.9, while the Greens and the independents scored 3.4 and 3.8 respectively.


COSBOA executive director Peter Strong says politicians need to do more to build small business confidence, particularly in light of the natural disasters which have crippled Queensland and parts of Victoria and NSW.


“Business is clearly dissatisfied with the elected officials at the Federal level, which is possibly why there is such overwhelming support for a dedicated small business ombudsman,” Strong says.


Strong says despite severe cuts to the Federal Budget to cover the recovery cost of the floods, there is still room in the budget for appointing a small business ombudsman.


“[The appointment of an] ombudsman would be money well spent as it would result in a stronger business sector, and help small businesses affected by the floods get back into action,” he says.


Strong says a small business ombudsman would act as a representative for the small business community, not unlike the role of Victoria’s Small Business Commissioner.


Deena Shiff, managing director of Telstra Business Group, says the Back to Business survey findings provide a useful “stock-take” to those charged with looking after the small business sector.


“The overall level of dissatisfaction evident in the survey is concerning when you consider small and medium businesses generate more than 80% of our economic growth and our economy is one of the strongest in the world,” Shiff says.


“However, on a more positive note, fewer businesses have strong concerns on key issues such as their ability to raise finance and deal with staff shortages.”


“It’s a sign of the resilience of small businesses that saw them weather the global financial crisis and their capacity to find ways to work smarter will come to the fore once again.”


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