Is the Ombudsman going in to bat for your small business this year?

What small business issues would you like to see improved in 2018? Find out if they’re on the Ombudsman’s 2018 priority list.

While the small business sector notched up several notable achievements in 2017, challenges remain on several policy fronts, says Ombudsman Kate Carnell.

Carnell’s office is aiming to put five small business issues front and centre of the national policy agenda in 2018.

First cab off the rank will be a greater share of government procurement, followed by improving access to justice.

Next on the priority list is delivery improvements to the beleaguered National Broadband Network, which resulted in 27,195 complaints to the Telecommunications Ombudsman last financial year.

“And we’ll continue to argue for red-tape reduction and simplified workplace relations,” Carnell adds.

Work to be done on the revised Banking Code of Practice

Meanwhile, lobbying around the new Banking Code of Practice remains a work in progress.

Released just before Christmas, the code has some positive initiatives for small business, Carnell acknowledges.

But there are unresolved issues around power imbalance, dispute resolution and concerns the code will not be enforced by the proposed Banking Code Compliance Committee.

“The committee will not be fully independent and banks won’t be obliged to accept its recommendations,” Carnell says.

“It’s like the umpire is appointed by the home team and they don’t have to accept the umpire’s decision.”

While the code includes simplified language and a specific section for small business, Carnell says banks could still act unilaterally to change the conditions of a loan if there were “materially adverse changes”.

Changes could relate to government policy, commodity markets or weather conditions.

“Changes to market conditions are often outside the control of the borrower and should not be used to penalise a small business if they continue to make all their repayments,” Carnell says.

“We understood the big four banks had individually agreed to remove those clauses, so its inclusion in the code is perplexing.”

What else to look forward to in 2018

Small businesses dealing with government departments and businesses may soon benefit from improved cashflow.

In July 2018, the Federal government will introduce 15-business-day payment terms for small business suppliers.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is encouraging state and local governments to follow suit and establish “a new payment culture within Australia … that recognises small business should not be used as a bank”.

“This will put money back in the pockets of small business, helping them invest, grow and employ more workers,” Turnbull says.

Ombudsman’s top five priorities for 2018

– Greater share of government procurement
– Better access to justice
– Energy and NBN delivery improvements
– Simplified workplace relations
– Red-tape reduction.

Ombudsman’s top five highlights of 2017

– Improved payment times
– Fairer small business loan contracts
– Lower penalty rates
– Small business-friendly Budget
– Marriage equality.

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