28/05/2008 - 22:00

New small business regime

28/05/2008 - 22:00

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The federal government has restructured its support for the small business sector, announcing plans to fund a network of field officers, enterprise centres and manufacturing support centres.

NO SMALL SUPPORT: Business Enterprise Centres are designed to support small businesses throughout Australia. Photo: Grant Currall

The federal government has restructured its support for the small business sector, announcing plans to fund a network of field officers, enterprise centres and manufacturing support centres.

Its initiatives include spending $42 million over four years to support 36 Business Enterprise Centres (BEC) in suburban, rural and regional Australia.

Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said the centres would provide business owners with advice on legal affairs, tax, accounting and marketing.

The six BECs in Western Australia complement the 26 state-run Small Business Centre network, spread throughout metropolitan and regional areas, which provide small companies with current information to start or build their business.

The new BEC program will replace the small business field officer network, which the Howard government had committed to fund up to 2009.

The federal government has also announced initial details of its $251 million Enterprise Connect network.

Enterprise Connect is a federal government initiative guided by industry advisers, whereas the BECs are a privately run network funded by the federal government.

Innovation and Industry Minister Kim Carr said the 10 Enterprise Connect centres around the country, which will include a facility in Perth, would help SMEs access new ideas.

Speaking at a network business advisers conference in Melbourne, Senator Carr said Enterprise Connect was a central plank of the government's industry policy platform.

"I see Enterprise Connect offering a range of services geared to the real-world needs of SMEs," he said.

In the first phase to implementing Enterprise Connect, five manufacturing centres will be progressively established around the country, including one in Perth, and will act as hubs of expertise.

The network will also include five Innovation Centres, covering mining technology, remote enterprise, innovative regions, creative industries and clean energy. It is unclear whether WA will host any of these centres.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of small businesses in Australia passed the 2 million mark as at June 2007 and was up 2.4 per cent on the previous year.

WA now has more than 196,000 small businesses operating, with ABS statistics showing WA business owners are third overall in the nation regarding confidence of future prospects.

State Small Business Minister Margaret Quirk said the state government was working hard to improve the operating environment for SMEs by abolishing a number of nuisance taxes and by exploring ways to reduce red tape for business.

"Western Australia is the only state government that has a dedicated small business development agency in the SBDC (Small Business Development Corporation)," she said.

"It is encouraging that the Rudd federal government will provide $7.2 million of funding over the next four years in support of six small business centres here in WA."

Ms Quirk said the introduction of the State Migration Centre at the SBDC was also returning positive results for WA businesses.

"Western Australia now leads the country in certain areas of skilled migration and has heavily promoted Western Australia as a destination of first choice for potential skilled and business migrants," she said.

"This activity, coupled with the highly successful Go West Now campaign, which promotes opportunities in the west to New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland has resulted in an 11 per cent increase in interstate migration since 2006.

"The Home Based Business Network, Exporters Network, Business Migrants Network and Young Business Network, all run by the SBDC are just four of the networks available and currently there are approximately 10,000 businesses participating, sharing knowledge and building effective business networks through this initiative."

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