Small Business


What small business really wants (it's not company tax cuts)

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Ask 1200 small business folk the main thing they would do to improve their business performance if they were made prime minister for a day, reducing company tax comes in third.

It's still a podium finish, still the choice of 21.3 per cent, but the top small business priorities captured by the latest Scottish Pacific/East and Partners survey were more basic: streamline reporting of BAS tax obligations (24.3 per cent), and make it easier to hire and fire staff (22.1 per cent). 

It also says something about small business that government initiatives already undertaken to simplify BAS reporting for businesses with turnover below $10 million seem to get no credit or haven't been noticed.

And the mood of small business coming through the survey shows there's a very big gap between the desire of the federal Treasurer and the Reserve Bank to see bigger pay rises and the willingness of the nation's largest employment sector to pay them.

As for the company tax rate reductions the government has headlined as its major initiative for business growth, there's little surprise that it's not small business' top priority – our dividend franking system means it makes little difference to the final hip pocket and many small businesses aren't even incorporated.

Company tax rates mattered more to the larger small businesses - if that's not too much of a contradiction.


Breaking the survey down into businesses with turnover of more than $10 million and those with turnover of between $1 million and $10 million, streamlining BAS reporting was the No.1 priority for 26.7 per cent of the smaller companies and 21.1 per cent of the larger.

Reducing company tax was the priority for 19.9 per cent of the smaller businesses but 23 per cent of the larger. The desire to change the Fair Work Act was uniform – 22.1 and 22.2 per cent respectively.

Red tape in total – whether BAS reporting or industrial relations and work conditions compliance – was the overwhelming bugbear for respondents.

When specifically asked what was the main productivity constraint on business, 29.3 per cent nominated hiring and firing regulations, followed by 23 per cent with "red tape".

Responses fell away sharply from there to "work culture" (11 per cent) and "technology issues" (5.3 per cent). Nearly 11 per cent of respondents went beyond the survey options to specifically nominate "leave provisions" and 8 per cent blamed minimum wage regulations.

Yes, small business would like a much freer hand with employees, to hire them and fire them more easily, have them work more often and for less. This could indicate small businesses confuse "productivity constraint" with "profitability constraint".

And there's a chasm between the theory of needing bigger wage increases and the reality of small business wanting or being able to pay them.

The highly competitive nature of most small businesses makes it hard to increase revenue and profit margins, so higher wages threaten to either squeeze the owner's income or send the business broke.

The outlook for most of the businesses surveyed is that there will not be more money to share around.

The key feature of this six-monthly exercise is the deterioration in growth expectations since it started in 2014.

The first survey found 62.6 per cent expected to record revenue growth in the year ahead, 13.2 per cent expected lower revenue and 24.2 per cent predicted no change.

Seven surveys later, less than half – 48.4 per cent – expect growth, 23.4 per cent expect lower revenue and 28.1 per cent no change.