Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand

 
Listen to small businesses to get recovery right

Listen to small businesses to get recovery right

Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand

 February 2021   

Back in October last year, the Road Transport Forum hosted a Zoom seminar with economist Cameron Bagrie.

Anyone who has attended our last few conferences would know that Cameron is one of the most astute economic minds in the country, so when he makes the point that the Government needs to do more to listen to the small business community, you know that this is a recommendation to be taken seriously.

Cameron rightly identifies the dominance that big business has over small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) when it comes to influencing government. In many respects this is to be expected as the big end of town can afford to employ stakeholder engagement and government relations specialists, or contract a consultancy for that purpose. 

There is also nothing wrong about business lobbying government, just as there isn’t when unions, community groups, or industry associations do it. 

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Back in October last year, the Road Transport Forum hosted a Zoom seminar with economist Cameron Bagrie.

Anyone who has attended our last few conferences would know that Cameron is one of the most astute economic minds in the country, so when he makes the point that the Government needs to do more to listen to the small business community, you know that this is a recommendation to be taken seriously.

Cameron rightly identifies the dominance that big business has over small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) when it comes to influencing government. In many respects this is to be expected as the big end of town can afford to employ stakeholder engagement and government relations specialists, or contract a consultancy for that purpose. 

There is also nothing wrong about business lobbying government, just as there isn’t when unions, community groups, or industry associations do it. 

The fact is that New Zealand is an economy dominated by SMEs. They employ around 30% of our workforce (with another 10% self-employed). Smaller businesses are far more vulnerable to economic fluctuations and changes in government policy, yet they struggle to gain the access to government that their position within our economy deserves. 

Engagement, however, is a two-way street, and this Government needs to do a lot better at tapping into the expertise and listening to the concerns of the small business community as we negotiate our way through the COVID-19 recovery. 

RTF’s members, most of whom are SMEs, can be sure that we will continue to advocate for their interests with both ministers and government officials. We have plenty of runs on the board when it comes to representing smaller operators and have worked to prevent a number of regulatory changes and unnecessary compliance that makes it harder to do business. 

In recent years we have also pushed the Government to make legislative changes to protect small operators from unfair contract terms and unilateral deferred payment situations imposed on them by large corporates.

The other issue that the Government needs to urgently get on top of is how to best assist the freight sector to alleviate pressure on our supply chain. As we know, our ports have been struggling to clear the backlog of shipping imports, which is then having a flow-on for exporters.

This is all putting pressure on the road transport industry, which as usual ends up being the meat in the sandwich – feeling the squeeze from both sides.

While fault cannot be laid directly at the feet of Government, the freight sector was warning right from the start of the COVID-19 crisis that there was a major issue developing with NZ’s supply chain. The infrastructure and resilience just don’t exist to deal with the kind of consumer demand and structural problems experienced during 2020. 

I admit to being extremely disappointed that the Government didn’t have much of a handle on the supply chain problem until empty shelves started appearing in our shops. Ours is an economy driven by exports and imports – goods that need to get where they are going as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The supply chain is absolutely critical to how NZ pays its way in the world.

All we ask is that government proactively sits down with the freight sector when these situations appear on the horizon, listen to our logistics experts and implement strategies to free up scheduling, reduce compliance, and bring in more overseas workers, if that is what’s required. 

On to something more positive: It was a real privilege to go down to Invercargill to attend the NZ Road Transport Hall of Fame in November. For those who have never been, you really must put it in your diaries. It’s a great event that recognises NZ’s road transport legends, who have helped shape our industry over the years. 

The 2020 event was particularly significant because it included some extremely notable inductees. Anita Dynes was the first woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Anita is an iconic industry figure as a critical part of Dynes Transport, and with the role of women in road transport frequently overlooked, it was great to see Anita recognised for what she has done for the industry.

I was also pleased to be there to see Graham Sheldrake, Trevor Woolston and Warwick Wilshier enter the Hall of Fame. All three have had a close relationship with the RTF and are still intimately involved with us; Graham in his capacity as advocate for Te ara ki tua Road to success, Trevor through our partnership with NZ Truck & Driver, and Warwick as a current RTF board member. 

Other inductees on the night were tyre industry legend Jim Black and the late Sir Jack Newman of Newman Bros Ltd. 

Finally, those that have had a lot to do with RTF over the years will know that we are a pretty small team here in Wellington. Because of that we work really closely with each other and when someone moves on it tends to leave a bit of a hole in the office. I therefore really want to acknowledge Mark Ngatuere who has left to take up new opportunities in Queensland. 

Mark has made a major contribution to the industry over the 15 years he has been RTF’s policy, training and safety manager. He has been intimately involved in many of our most successful initiatives and has been a driving force behind the Rollover Prevention Programme, Road to success, the industry’s work in the animal welfare and livestock cartage space, and as secretary for many of our critical sector groups. 

Mark has a deep understanding of what makes the industry tick and his expertise and advice will be sorely missed. I wish him all the best for his time in Australia.

While we sadly said goodbye to Mark, it has been exciting to welcome two new faces to RTF in recent months. Caleb Rapson Nuñez del Prado has come on board in a policy role and – with an academic background in geography, economics and environmental issues – is adding to the expertise of our team. 

Fiona McDonagh comes to us with significant experience in the sector, having been involved in HR, wellbeing, despatch and administration for a large transport company. Both Caleb and Fiona will have major roles to play in administering the Road to success traineeship programme and I look forward to working with them on that project and developing a viable workforce solution for the industry.  


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