A long-term plan to develop skills and training and more infrastructure spending in business districts outside of the CBD and town centres top the list of concerns revealed in a Canberra Business Chamber survey of their members.
Businesses also back the Chamber’s call for a dedicated ACT Government Minister for Business and a single business advice agency to make it easier for them to engage with government.
Interim Chamber CEO Graham Catt said businesses wanted the government to work with them to develop a long-term skills strategy.
He said that if the ACT was going to be a smart city focusing on IT, cybersecurity, renewable energy and education as the government says, then it needed to have the people to fill the jobs in those sectors.
“But to do that well we really have to have a clear plan to say in one year’s time, three years, five years and 10 years, what these sectors are going to look like and what the needs are going to be,” Mr Catt said.
“Where are we going to need more people? Where are we going to need fewer? And are we going to be generating those people though our own universities in Canberra and CIT, producing those skills here, and are those courses aligned with those needs, or are we going to bring people in, going to have to attract people to move to Canberra so we get the skills that we need? How are we going to do that?”
He said businesses acknowledged the government’s recognition of the private sector’s importance and its efforts to build up certain sectors but they could not see a clear long-term plan.
“The concern really is not so much about effort, but we need to know that’s accompanied by a plan so we have those skills there, and it’s not visible at the moment,” Mr Catt said.
Businesses in centres such as Fyshwick, Phillip, Mitchell and Hume were also feeling like poor relations seeing investment going to the CBD and town centres while infrastructure such as parking and footpaths deteriorate.
“It’s really about balance, and just remembering that it’s the whole of the ACT [that has needs], and making sure everyone is treated equally, and investment is equal,” Mr Catt said.
This extended to retail areas such as Manuka and Kingston that had seen a decline in recent years.
Mr Catt said the time had also come for a Minister for Business, with 64 per cent of ACT workers being employed in the private sector and 97 per cent of the 28,000 enterprises registered in the ACT being small businesses.
He said that while preparing the chamber’s budget submission last year it was realised that there were 37 different touchpoints for business across portfolios and agencies, which seemed excessive for such a small jurisdiction.
There was an opportunity to streamline the situation and make it easier for business to engage with government through a single business advice agency under a minister that would understand the business community, their issues, their needs and be an advocate in Cabinet.
“The ACT is currently the only jurisdiction not funding a dedicated small business support and advice service,” Mr Catt said. “Businesses are still feeling the impact of smoke haze, hail damage and the coronavirus, and resources to help them plan ahead and rebuild are critical.”
With an election coming, the Chamber believes it is the perfect time for business to call for its own minister.
“The prosperity of Canberra is going to depend on the private sector. We’re not a public sector town any more. The majority of people are working in the private sector, so having that ministerial presence would make a big difference,” Mr Catt said.
Businesses also want to see better public transport links to centres such as Fyshwick and a review of the controversial commercial rates regime.