Kim Campbell: A business wish-list for Christmas

The ports issue in Auckland shows the urgency of the need for a review of our employment relations environment. Photo / Greg Bowker
The ports issue in Auckland shows the urgency of the need for a review of our employment relations environment. Photo / Greg Bowker

Government leaders invited to share economic vision, writes Kim Campbell, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

Twelve days before the election the National Party released a list of 120 policy points said to be their Economic Development Action Plan though just 26 of them were really new.

While we can argue if such a list constitutes a business plan that will advance the country's growth, what is certain is that business wants to see and hear an economic development plan articulated for New Zealand. Business people want to share our leaders' vision for where and how our country is to grow.

The reason is simple. Business wants to align its investment into the country's future since that will help reduce the risk of losing money.

While the Post-Election Action Plan listed many very worthwhile things such as halving the Budget deficit next year, connecting 58,000 premises to ultra fast broadband including 221 schools by next July, and introducing changes to ACC to allow choice in the work account, such a list is generally not what business understands as a business plan.

Nevertheless how do the Government's priorities line up compared to what business thinks are most important for growing the economy, and thereby holding onto our standard of living?

There's strong agreement that the ownership of some of our SOEs should be expanded. That's an early priority for both business and the government. From the business perspective it's important because it will help reduce the amount of debt we are incurring - it is like exchanging debt for shares, or equity, in a business while retaining majority control.

A top priority for business is the focus all our enterprises must bring to bear on innovation. Innovation is the mother and father of productivity, working smarter not harder, and making more services and products the world wants. It's the route to greater wealth and stemming the flow of our people offshore.

Unfortunately the Government seems to have a piecemeal approach to innovation. For sure, the scheduled investment in infrastructure such as broadband will help with this, but just as likely it will serve only to keep us up with the pace of many other nations.

The development of an Advanced Technology Institute is the other big proposal and a very welcome one. But our businesses and business culture can't wait for it to start proving its value in several years' time, and that would be the case even if it were to be set up next year.

What is required are incentives to galvanise all of our enterprises, public and private sector, to make innovation a core part of their activities right away. The net of the proposed Natural Science Challenge might be re-cast therefore, to ensure it becomes more inclusive than the word "science".

Business in general is keen to see the Government limit its new spending, and there is no excuse now not to fast track the Regulatory Standards Bill.

The average Kiwi business shoulders an annual compliance burden equal to $1000 - $3000 for every staff member, wildly excessive on any score for a country like ours so dependent on the competitiveness of a high number of relatively small businesses.

Businesses will be looking to see similar action on local government - the Regulatory Standards Bill applies there too - and changes to the Resource Management Act.

The Emissions Trading Scheme acts as a tax on virtually all Kiwi firms. Both sides of Parliament are committed to it, more or less, though no one in business understands why New Zealand needs it. No other country has a scheme like ours that imposes extra costs over virtually all the goods we produce.

Our skills development and employment opportunities suffer as a result. Business wants to see policies that will compensate for it. One of them should be a further cut to the company tax rate to help attract investment otherwise deterred by our ETS and its accompanying costs.

But railing against the ETS does not mean our businesses are anti-green. Far from it. New Zealand has a marvellous opportunity to become a leader in sustainability, and all business people I know are prepared to back the policies that will take us there.

A pressing issue for all our businesses is the need for better and more relevant skills. A significant part of the skills gap is due to a lack of clear pathways from secondary school to tertiary training and work; there's still a sad shortfall in the Government's priorities in this area.

Finally the ports issue in Auckland shows the urgency, if a reminder were needed, of the need for a review of our employment relations environment. The present processes and confidentiality surrounding collective bargaining are unhelpful in developing the levels of productivity, flexibility and competitiveness we must squeeze from all the super work we Kiwis are renowned for.

There are other issues, but as a start, wouldn't it be great if Santa managed to squeeze this particular sack of goodies down our economy's chimney for Christmas.

- NZ Herald

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