MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire has appointed a “small business champion”.
As well as his new title, Cr Anthony Marsh was successful at the 27 July meeting in having the council reaffirm its commitment to the Small Business Friendly Council Charter and acknowledging that businesses are a “vital part” of the peninsula’s community.
Cr Kerri McCafferty nominated Cr Marsh as the small business champion, saying he had undertaken a “high level of consultation” to “develop” a notice of motion calling for small business support and a champion.
“He has consistently pushed for improved outcomes for small business since being elected and given that he was the councillor that actually initiated the [motion] he is an obvious choice,” Cr McCafferty said.
Cr Marsh, who has an MBA, a small business background and is spending $8000 of his councillor allowance on a directors’ course, was successful in moving that a communications plan be developed and endorsed by the council by September to ensure its commitment to the charter, and local businesses is made known to the community.
Under the plan businesses will be able engage with and provide feedback to the council, with an officers’ report by the end of the year identifying how the council can better support businesses and business owners.
The plan will address support and assistance for businesses in planning and planning applications and improve economic development.
Shire officers have also been told to prepare a new economic development strategy, in consultation with councillors and key community groups, by June 2022.
Cr Marsh said the Small Business Friendly Council Charter aimed to “put small businesses back on the agenda and to accelerate actions to create an enabling environment for businesses of all types to start, grow and thrive”.
Economic development team leader Anita Buczkowsky said 95 per cent of businesses on the peninsula employed less than five people and many “have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns”.
“This further reaffirmation [and] prioritisation in council’s planning process and development of a new economic development strategy, will raise business confidence,” Ms Buczkowsky said.
The council’s planning services department already offered alternatives for customers to obtain planning advice and direction, including telephone, webchat, pre-application meetings and written general inquiries.
Questions over Cr Marsh’s “qualifications” to be the shire’s “small business champion” exposed tensions in the chamber, with Crs David Gill and Susan Bissinger saying it would be better to appoint “someone from outside”.
Cr Antonella Celi – who also thought an outsider would make a better choice – accused her colleagues of playing “personality politics”.
Cr Paul Mercurio said things were “getting a bit heated” and backed Cr Marsh’s appointment.
“The fact that [he] is interested means we should give him a shot. If someone else had brought it to us I would say the same thing,” he said.
Cr Marsh said it was unfortunate that tensions “are targeted at me”.
“I don’t get what the problem is … I find it quite disappointing. It’s hypocrisy.”
Cr Gill later “wondered” if the allegiance of a “champion” councillor to one section of the community could “affect their independence when they come to vote?”.
“If a councillor is a champion for the business sector and there is a neighbour’s amenity issue before council … would the champion be able to even vote on the issue given the perception of allegiance?” he said.
“It concerns me if there is any perception of councillors not voting on issues based on merit.”