Council’s business move ‘curious’

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A PENINSULA business group says it hopes Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s move to become Small Business Friendly will “herald a change in its approach” to small business.

The council last week announced it had “officially become a Small Business Friendly Council, committed to giving small businesses in the region more support”.

The council said it was becoming a partner in the Victorian Small Business Commission initiative to “make it a lot easier for small business owners to get started and develop their businesses”.

Commissioner Judy O’Connell met with the mayor, Cr David Gill and CEO John Baker at Rosebud to sign the initiative’s charter.

However, local businesses are furious with the council for being anything but business-friendly by ramping up food registration fee renewals and “lacking clarity in the reasons behind fee hikes”.

One café owner at Hastings said small hospitality businesses were “being gouged by the council”. (See “Fast food fee rises hard to swallow” The News 30/10/19).

Committee for Mornington Peninsula (C4MP) led by former federal minister for small business Bruce Billson, of Mornington – which had called on the shire to join the business commission – was surprised to learn of its membership “only via social media”.

This was on the day C4MP hosted a luncheon at Mornington Racing Club to hear from the Victorian Small Business Commissioner about “what such a commitment involves”.

C4MP says it represents 40 peninsula businesses.

Mr Billson said he welcomed the council’s move to “become business friendly” and that he “looked forward to tangible action to demonstrate commitment to its pledge ‘to make it a lot easier for small business owners to get started and develop their businesses’”.

“Learning about the council’s positive response via social media was a curious way to signal improved support … but it is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Mr Billson cited “practical action other councils have taken, such as having concierge services and facilitation support to help small business navigate extensive permit requirements and one-stop-shop application processes” as “examples we hope our shire will follow”.

“Too often local businesses speak of experiences where [our] council seems to adopt an adversarial approach and aggressively enforces compliance, when a culture of the council as an ally, providing assistance and adopting an educative approach, would be far more supportive of local small businesses,” he said.

Other “strong feedback from local businesses [was] that the council was ‘prickly and combative’ to deal with”.

“It is encouraging that just weeks after calling on the shire to join the Small Business Friendly Council initiative it has done so,” Mr Billson said.

“C4MP is happy to provide this thought-leadership, just as we have done with the question of a ‘regional’ designation for the Mornington Peninsula.”

The mayor Cr David Gill said proof the council backed small business was its membership of the Victorian Small Business Commission. “In this case there was no time to notify every business in the shire of our membership,” he said.

“We were asked to join and were pleased to do so. We studied their charter and are doing virtually everything mentioned in it.”

Cr Gill said a reason for the fee hikes was that the council was under “onerous obligations to the state Health Department” to ensure businesses complied with standards set by the state government.

“We don’t want to be prickly with anyone,” he said. “If there’s a problem people should come and talk to us.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 5 November 2019

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