Small business needs to make sure they are heard by local government

local government

From the very beginning of your business journey local councils have a big hand in your business – and your pocket. You pay for a DA and licences when you start, you pay rates, fees, and charges annually as you trade, and you pay for compliance inspections (or a fine for non-compliance). Local government in major cities makes most of their revenue from charges on small business. The City of Sydney, for example, raises 70 per cent of rates revenue from SMEs.

But what do you get for your money? More to the point what should you get for your money? At the very least it should be a voice in how that money is spent. Before you go tipping tea into Boston harbour and demanding “no taxation without representation” check your local council rules. Many do allow property owners, corporations, and leaseholders to vote.

The right to vote may exist, so the onus is on you, the SME operator, to find out and to exercise it. If you don’t you won’t be able to influence outcomes.

In NSW, with the most progressive voting rules across all 124 councils, there are 800,000 small business owners who could be eligible to vote where they operate their business, even if they don’t live there. The very small number who also live in the same council area get just one vote, so dismiss all the shenanigans about the elections being undemocratic. Speaking of democracy, it’s only Queensland where local government voting rights are restricted to residents – but they still seem happy to collect the businesses’ money.

Now more than ever it’s become obvious that if small businesses’ problems, needs and challenges are not a priority for any level of government, they remain unaware and ill-informed. They tell us how important we are, but we need to show them. It’s already tough given how diverse we are across industries and size and how fractured we are. Elections have a habit of turning up the volume on many issues, why not those of local small businesses at a grassroots level?

When you consider the type of impacts that small business can face locally and the lack of support or assistance to resolve or even just report it, it’s astounding.

  • Changing parking rules.
  • Changing planning rules.
  • Construction projects that can stop or limit customer foot traffic.
  • Poorly scheduled public works without notice or consultation.

There is no point if, as a small-business community, we complain that government doesn’t care about us but then don’t participate in the process of selecting our government.