Our regional businesses have a lot going for them.

Here in Hawke's Bay, the Government will spend the next two weeks focusing directly on small businesses with a new initiative to better support them through hands-on mentoring and advice

The first event in the Kiwi Business Boost series of regional workshops and online tools was launched in Wairoa and Napier yesterday.

The Business Boost initiative combines face to face guidance and coaching with tailored support delivered online.

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More than 50 free events offer help with some of the biggest business challenges: cash flow, compliance, staff, sustainability, and health and wellbeing.

Two years ago when I became the Minister for Small Business my priorities were to modernise the way we do business and improve the way government engages with business.

I want to support small businesses to modernise, because to be blunt, if we do not adapt we will be knocking at the door of the insolvency lawyers. And we don't want to be there.

We are getting a lot of things right but we always want to do better. Global agencies rate us highly. The World Bank says we are number one for ease of doing business.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts economic growth here of 2.5 per cent in 2019 and 2.7 per cent in 2020, well ahead of our main trading partners. The Washington-based Tax Foundation ranks us at number two in the world for the most competitive and neutral tax system.

Nevertheless I know it can be hard to run a small business. We want to make sure it is as easy as possible to meet lawful requirements. We have a lot of work under way across government that will make a big difference.

There are a number of business-friendly measures we are putting in place. Progress on faster payment terms, changes to the Fair Trading Act to stop small businesses being exploited by larger enterprises, the 90-day trial period for businesses with fewer than 20 staff, and ensuring a fair deal at the fuel pump through the Commerce Commission's work.

But first, I want to acknowledge the ground-breaking efforts of Craig Hudson at Xero, who is doing serious work to tackle what no other business leader has highlighted before: the mental health of small business owners.

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His research shows fewer than half of small business employers celebrate milestones, or try to manage long hours, or regularly thank staff. He identifies ways small business leaders can talk about wellbeing, manage stress, and seek help. He encourages businesses to build their support networks, and seek out business mentors.

Strikingly, almost a quarter of the people Xero surveyed had no idea how to access any support. As part of the 2019 Wellbeing Budget we are improving access to mental health services. It will mean anyone can access mental health support when and where they need it.

Business owners can also access new government tools to help them run their operations. The website Business.govt.nz is one such example. It hosts 15 online tools and advice to help businesses get started, grow, hire and manage staff, and manage risks and accounting. Each day between 5000 and 10,000 people visit this website.

One of the most popular tools is the Employment Agreement Builder, which offers a template for hiring staff. It's been used to create 600,000 employment agreements.

I encourage small business owners to check out the Kiwi Business Boost events and website. It is an entirely new concept. Next year, with lessons learned from this pilot, it will be rolled out to other areas of the country.

The online platform is live and businesses can sign up here: boost.business.govt.nz. While the free events are only in Hawke's Bay for now, any business in the country can use the platform to access guidance tailored to their needs.

The Kiwi Business Boost will help us better understand the individual needs of small businesses across New Zealand, identify gaps and wrap them in a support where and when they need it.

Stuart Nash is the MP for Napier and the Minister of Police.


WHERE TO GET HELP
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or to talk to someone else:
0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
Youthline: 0800 376 633 ? Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or Text 4202
Samaritans: 0800 726 666