The Canberra Business Chamber has restored its balance sheet, restructured its staff and is growing its membership. Releasing its annual report, the Business Chamber has revealed an operating surplus of $135,000, a major turnaround from two years ago.
Chief executive officer Dr Michael Schaper said about three years ago the Business Chamber recorded a $500,000 loss, leaving negative equity on the balance sheet, and not a good place to be when liabilities outweighed assets.
“The last two financial years have been about repairing that,” Dr Schaper said. “This year, as the annual report shows, we have cleared that, so we have a modest, positive balance sheet, that is the only way it will stay from here on in, as far as I’m concerned. As Canberra’s peak business body, it’s important that we perform strongly, keep our own house in order and continue to deliver on major new initiatives for our members,” he said.
According to the annual report, the use of outside consultants was substantially reduced, internal staffing was re-organised and specific managers appointed for important activities, the most significant being a chief operating officer and deputy for the chief executive who will focus on policy and advocacy work. The Business Chamber’s main focus will be on policies in preparation for the ACT elections in October 2020.
Running a tight ship while maintaining services, Dr Schaper said the focus would be on what members were looking for, rather than extraneous activities. A members’ survey in February showed businesses wanted three important things:
- Business and industrial relations advice and support, especially for small-to-medium businesses
- Networking and social events, and
- Being a voice to government.
The Business Chamber had run four or five major events, each attracting several hundred people. They were run on a break-even basis and were not aimed to be profit-making.
“We have deliberately stepped back from taking and running many programs on behalf of the ACT Government,” Dr Schaper said. “We think there are programs that are still important to run, and we are happy to partner with them, like trade and wage advice to employers. But there are other areas where we think we don’t need to be offering that and, in fact, it is probably better if we don’t rely too much on the government for our income.”
On the policy front, Dr Schaper does not agree with a view that the federal government is overly fixated on a surplus, creating less demand for service-oriented businesses in Canberra.
“I don’t get a lot of reports on that. In fact, as a business organisation, we have gone on the record to say we think the territory government should also be operating on a balanced or surplus level because it needs to live within its means. Increasingly though, for local businesses, it is the Canberra community, rather than federal services that are the principal driver of a lot of their own success.”
About two-thirds of employment in Canberra is in the private sector, which equates to 28,000 local businesses.
“Increasingly, businesses are succeeding and thriving off their own trade between each other,” Dr Schaper said. “Some businesses perhaps will have been beneficiaries when government spends more than it needs. We think just as we need our own businesses to trade at a profit or at least break even, we expect the government to do so as well.”
The Business Chamber’s membership grew by almost 10 per cent over 2019 and now stands at almost 600.
“In addition, we have become the only state or territory chamber in the country that has diplomatic missions as direct members,” Dr Schaper said. “Panama, Mexico and Russia have all joined in recent months, and we hope to welcome more in the future.”
Other achievements highlighted in the annual report were reaching 8,000 contacts listed on the business chamber’s database of regional local businesses and more than 1,500 phone calls and enquiries received by its workplace relations service advice lines.
“We are keen to grow our membership. The Business Chamber is a broad church that intends to represent the full cross-section of the business community, and we welcome any and all new members.”
To learn more about the Chamber’s advocacy and support services, visit the Canberra Business Chamber.