Around half of all Australian SMEs are delaying investment decisions due to concerns about the impending federal election, but there are hopes that whoever wins will deliver positive change in several key areas.
According to new survey results in the Westpac Small Business Report, undertaken in collaboration with Deloitte, 50 per cent of small businesses are worried or uncertain about the impact election policies will have on their operations, and are therefore choosing to delay growth strategies such as investment or staffing.
The major bank suggested that delays to investment or growth plans could have far-reaching consequences for the economy, given that 40 per cent of new jobs in the economy (equivalent to 107,000 jobs in 2017-18) are created by small businesses each year.
Further, as small businesses invest an average of around $530 million each month, Westpac has suggested that the net effect of the election could reduce overall investment levels for the next two months (until the federal election is held), which would exacerbate an economy that is already slowing markedly at a time when “drags from the housing downturn [are] expected to intensify”.
However, the report notes that the most profitable businesses are less likely to delay decision-making.
Of this bracket, 56 per cent stated the election does not affect their timing for hiring staff, compared to just 41 per cent of other businesses, while 58 per cent of this group do not consider the election when buying equipment, compared to 40 per cent of other businesses.
“With the increasing pace and unpredictability of change this quarter, it’s encouraging to see many small businesses adopt a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to decision-making. This is credit to the hard-working business owners across the country, and we can all learn from their example,” said Ganesh Chandrasekkar, general manager of SME banking at Westpac.
“We do appreciate not all businesses will share the same level of confidence, and that is why they’re more cautious and delaying decisions after the federal election.”
According to the report, small businesses would like to see the federal election deliver decreased energy costs, reduced regulation and red tape, and increased small business grants.
“Our customers tell us that small business tax cuts, less regulation and red tape, and energy policy are a top priority in the upcoming election,” Mr Chandrasekkar said.
“The recently announced plans to fast-track tax cuts for small business will offer some support, but more can be done to help particularly with grant funding.
“There is a significant number of government grants available, but over 40 per cent of small businesses are unaware of what’s available, and almost 80 per cent say the government grant process is too difficult to navigate,” he said.
“If there is one area which we could boost confidence in is in the areas of grants – both government and corporate – by easing the burden of compliance and complexity so that businesses receive the benefits.”
Commenting on business conditions for 2019, Mr Chandrasekkar said: “Looking ahead, the economy is facing a more challenging year, with the housing downturn expected to have a more material impact on growth, with the RBA now expected to cut interest rates to cushion the slowdown.
“With the federal election likely to impact business decisions, 2019 is already shaping up as a trickier year for small business; it will be important we work together with government to ensure they are supported and can continue to operate with certainty.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.