Participants included staff from Bass Coast and South Gippsland shires, several small businesses, and a consultant linked to Baw Baw shire.
Nadine Verboon from Wattlebank Park listed a large number of separate agencies requiring registration and payment of fees by her small business. She said that all these requirements are met, but that it requires a lot of work, and someone who is willing and competent to undertake it. Nadine’s statement provided the basis for the discussion.
The administrative and financial burden on small businesses and community groups, particularly small mixed farms and other mixed businesses, is very heavy and can be very complicated.
There is a wide range of agencies, from federal through State to local government, as well as independent bodies such as the several organic certifying bodies, which have regulations that affect small local businesses in Southern Gippsland.
There is very little if any cooperation between these agencies.
In several cases the regulations are developed at one level and administered at another.
People wanting to develop a project in Southern Gippsland may not be aware of all the regulations which will affect them.
This administrative burden can be a deterrent to entrepreneurship in this area.
So can the financial costs of compliance – ‘it takes a lot of jars of jam to cover the annual food safety fee’.
Local Government Issues
Fees for the same form of registration are not consistent across all shires. People running small businesses need to accept responsibility for managing a business. Local government officers have a particular job to do, and are not in a position to provide business advice to individual businesses.
Small business people who are ‘caught out’ by shire officers, even though they may be trying to comply, are often treated unsympathetically. There may be little recognition of the complexity of the job they are trying to do. Different shire departments do not communicate with each other, even about issues affecting the same small local project.
There is a general feeling that local government is not trying to encourage the development of this sector. Small business managers need to be careful in their use of formal language in applications – choice of words can make a big difference.
The group wasn’t in a position to suggest further action, but there was general agreement that:
- There is an important role for education about requirements of different agencies at different levels, and constructive encouragement for those who have ideas they would like to develop.
- Shire economic development activities and other related events run in Southern Gippsland should be more widely publicised.
- There should be more opportunities for the two shires to talk to local small businesses and community groups about what is needed BEFORE their programs are finalised.
- Economic development planning should take better account of the role of the local food sector.