Friday, 23 September 2016

Business expectations of Local Government

With the Local Government elections looming it is important to reinforce what the business community expects from Local Government, in the context of being supportive of business, given how critical it is for any community to have a healthy business sector.

Local Government needs to be business friendly. Being business friendly means providing opportunities for interaction by business with the city in a friendly, efficient and cost effective manner and in a way that optimises sustainable economic growth for the benefit of all.

It is timely to remind all candidates why being business friendly is important. Fundamentally it is about the compelling linkage between sustainable, profitable business, community wellbeing, and individual welfare. However, a business friendly Council is also important because the local economy must grow to achieve the Council’s aspirations as expressed in its Long Term Community Plan. Of course, we need to generate wealth for our community to thrive. Christchurch is still regarded, relatively speaking, as a low wage economy and businesses and employers are determined to change that.

Christchurch City Council has a mission of adding value to the local economy and has declared its intent to advocate in the interests of the whole economy including the business community. It follows therefore that the Council must be seen to be inadvertently business friendly in the context of wider community support. As we regenerate our city, most of us understand that vibrant businesses are a critical component of a liveable city. During this regeneration phase the Council must be seen to be overtly business friendly to optimise positive business outcomes. A Council that stands in the way of sustainable profitable business will impose a major barrier for good business outcomes and will discourage the investment of capital in our city.

Our challenge to the incoming Council, which has been our challenge to the Council for many years, is that the Christchurch City Council be recognised as the most business friendly Local Government in New Zealand. It can do that by making a declaration to be business friendly, because attitude is important, and because this will give us an edge over other communities. Everyone in Council, both elected representatives and staff, must be encouraged to think business friendly. Council must ask itself constantly what it can do to support and encourage local business activity.

The Council should be intent on actively attacking and reducing compliance costs. It should think of compliance through the eyes of the business community. The Council should activity support local business given all other factors being equal. It should make sure that its infrastructure is supportive of business activity and it should be fair in apportioning the city’s running costs, rates and user charges. The Council must not subsidise one business against another or offer cash incentives or selective rates relief. They distort the economy.

The Council needs to work closely, collaboratively and constructively with local business support agencies and it needs to support cross community collaboration to grow the economy. It is important that the Council is seen to be prepared to be accountable and rectify issues that are seen to be anti-business. It needs to have a long term sensible and predictable planning framework. It is critical that we are overtly promoting sustainable business growth in our community and that we have new models of collaboration in a very busy post earthquake period to encourage efficiency and to maximise productivity. A business friendly Council can materially assist in this endeavour. We lay down the challenge and we look forward to working with the incoming Council to achieve our common objectives.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Prime Minister and Mayor jointly open The Chamber offices

The new home of the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce was officially opened on Thursday 15 September by the Rt. Hon. John Key and Hon. Lianne Dalziel at a special opening celebration.

Peter Townsend, CEO Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, led the formalities before the Prime Minister and Mayor unveiled the plaque, declaring the new facilities officially open. The Prime Minister and Mayor were invited to jointly open the building as a signal of local and central government’s commitment to work together on the rebuild of our city and central business district.

The Chamber relocated back to 57 Kilmore Street in July after spending five and a half years in various locations following the February 2011 earthquake.

“It’s been quite the journey since that devastating day. Our first post-earthquake residence was at my personal house in Holmwood Road where the team worked tirelessly to support Canterbury businesses to get back up on their feet. Six months later we moved to the Westpac Hub, then to Colombo Street, and now we’re back home … for good. Words can’t express how great it feels!” Peter Townsend said.

Construction for the new facilities started in December 2015 and was completed in July 2016. The building has an open plan workspace for their 30 staff and allows for future growth. In addition, it features multi-functional meeting spaces and two fully equipped function rooms which will accommodate the majority of The Chamber’s training courses and many of their events.

“This is the first time in The Chamber’s 157 years of existence we’ve had purpose-built facilities for our members. The Chamber offers over two hundred events and training courses every year which are attended by thousands of Canterbury business people. It’s great to be able to hold the majority of those in our new home allowing members to be better connected and supported by us” said Leeann Watson, General Manager of The Chamber and project manager for the facility rebuild.

“It’s been a long time in the planning so it’s wonderful to see it be officially opened today; we are extremely proud of the legacy we have created for our members. Miles Construction and Canterbury Property Investments Group have done a superb job creating a flexible and future focused facility. We must also thank those who helped us over the last five and a half years, and to our members for their continued support – it’s been an incredible journey.

Peter Townsend talked of the future for The Chamber and what a facility like this means.

“We’re a membership organisation who are about helping our members do business better. This is the beginning of a number of changes as we head into a period of transformation and positive change. We’re under no illusion – the business world is changing dramatically with the digital evolution - we are going to be a part of that to ensure Canterbury businesses feel well supported and have the necessary tools to continue to thrive.” Townsend said.

“Members have always been at the heart of everything we do at The Chamber. The new building locks in a future-proofed legacy for us; we are here to support Canterbury businesses long-term.”

Today’s opening was well attended by over 100 special guests of The Chamber and featured a ‘best of our region’ food theme. The Chamber is holding an Open Day on Friday 7 October for all members to view the new premises and be updated on the future of The Chamber. Members are encouraged to drop in anytime between 11am – 2pm. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

How critical is lobbying and advocacy?

The organisation that I am proud to lead, the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber), plays a vital role in lobbying and advocating for businesses to be able to operate in a supportive environment. This is one of the critical functions of the Chamber ably assisted by its affiliations with the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and Industry (NZCCI) and BusinessNZ.

The lobbying role often goes unnoticed and is sometimes taken for granted. However, if we did not have business support agencies such as the Chamber and its associated entities there would be no coordinated voice for business and we would be on the receiving end of rules and regulations that would work actively against the ability for businesses to operate.

The Chamber for many years has been lobbying and advocating for sensible employment legislation, realistic health and safety laws, the sustainable use of water in our region, simple and transparent tax regimes, and issues around energy usage and climate change both directly and through our other relationships. For example, BusinessNZ is currently advocating on the issues of taxation of employee share schemes, competition law, Holidays Act problems, anti-dumping legislation and has recently, together with the Chamber, been advocating against the Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill.

The Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill known as the Contractor Bill was a potential piece of legislation promoted through a Private Members’ Bill that had the ability to blur the difference between a contracting relationship and an employment relationship. Contracting relationships and employment relationships are both legitimate forms of utilising labour. In late August, there was a real possibility that the Contractor Bill would become law and create a massive amount of confusion for the business community at large. Despite the fact that BusinessNZ, which is partially funded by the Chamber, opposed the bill as far as back as September 2015, it had reached the stage that it had a majority of political support to be passed by Parliament. That would have resulted in a bill that was impracticable, uneconomic and breached basic legal principles.

The Private Members’ Bill was put forward by the Labour Party and supported by the Greens, New Zealand First and Maori Party. It was also originally supported by the MP, Peter Dunn. The combined voting power of that group would have given it sufficient votes to be passed through Parliament.

The business community through business support agencies such as the Chamber made it clear that the bill was poorly drafted and would result in confusing the employment contracting interface. It was obvious that it would cause significant damage across the contracting sector. We went on to assert that contracting is a legitimate method of providing services and the bill attempted to draw more closely together the contracting and employment relationships. We maintained that if passed it would result in confusion and be impossible to regulate. We insisted the bill needed to be dropped to avoid a wide range of destructive unintended consequences and that we could do much better for our employment and contracting communities.

Our view was shared by business support agencies across the country who lobbied hard to ensure that the bill did not become law. As a direct result of that intense lobbying the voting shifted to the extent that the Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill was defeated by one vote in Parliament in late August.

This is just one example of the importance of lobbying and it is great to see how effective we can be if we work together in the interests of business and the wider community. Good legislation is critical; poor legislation can be incredibly destructive. The Chamber is a strong advocate of transparent mutually beneficial, high quality, employment and contracting relationships. We strongly oppose poor legislation that would undermine either or both relationships.