Small businesses in the Highlands were provided with a platform to express their concerns about dealing with Wingecarribee Shire Council, with all the findings announced this morning at a gathering at Centennial Vineyards.
NSW Small Business Commissioner Chris Lamont, along with Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope MLC, presented the Small Business Consultation: Wingecarribee Shire Council report, which included 20 recommendations to address the many problems revealed.
"It was wonderful to see we had the support of the Small Business Commissioner," said Southern Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Industry chair Steve Horton.
"Small businesses are the largest employer in the Highlands, so it's hugely important."
The recommendations outlined in the report aim to help future councillors and staff support and collaborate with businesses, and simplify application and development processes.
Mr Lamont hoped businesses saw their needs reflected in the findings.
"It's your report," he said.
"Small business people are angry, they are frustrated, they are exhausted - they just wanted it to be fixed."
Recommendations included connecting businesses to consult with stakeholders, and the provision of a council service dedicated to providing information and support on application processes.
The creation of opportunities with small businesses in tourism, their inclusion in economic strategies, and further transparency with applications and costs were also addressed in the recommendations.
The council will also be urged to implement mandatory governance training for future councillors with a focus on roles and responsibilities under the Local Government Act.
The latter addressed a concern that councillors and staff lacked appropriate knowledge, and staff turnover was very high.
"There was some frustration from staff that they have not been led and managed well," said Mr Lamont.
Mr Horton said he thought it was a "real win" for small businesses to see this report.
"They needed to take note of what small businesses needed to say," he said.
Attendees were provided with the opportunity to ask questions, with some asking for "tangible examples" of how they could see real change as a result of the report.
Mr Tudehope advised attendees to vote for candidates that support business community interests in the upcoming election.
"If you support the report, then hold the council to account," he said.
"And if I was a local candidate, I would look at the report and think - someone's written my platform for me."
Fifty-seven submissions from businesses and representative bodies provided feedback online about the council to the commission between late April and early May.
Face-to-face meetings were also conducted with businesses in Bowral, Moss Vale and Robertson with interim administrator Viv May PSM, Mr Lamont, Business Illawarra and local business chambers.
The report revealed that small businesses regarded local council as the most complicated body to deal with, well ahead of the ATO and other NSW government organisations.
Wingecarribee candidates Rachel Russell and Kaye Thompson also attended the event.
"There is an amount of healing that needs to be done," Ms Russell said.
"It is not just voting, but also inspiring the community to say that we got this."
The report can be found here.
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