Advocacy in real time

July, 2020

By: Alan McDonald

Head of Advocacy, EMA

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Member feedback was a critical component of the EMA’s advocacy programme during the peak of the COVID-19.

Advocacy can often be a slow moving process but the almost real-time feedback we were able to provide government, from the calls, emails and conversations with members, helped shape and change the government’s response during the fast-moving crisis period in the first few weeks of lockdown.

That feedback enabled the advocacy team to help cut through the usual mountain of red tape and get a faster response to help under pressure members.

For example, when there was a 12-week delay on sourcing hand sanitiser as the pandemic began, we successfully pushed for a temporary reversal of a 2017 regulatory change to enable New Zealand manufacturers of hand sanitiser to increase production volumes. Companies were restricted to 30 litres at a time and could never have cleared the back log until we managed to get it increased to 1,000 litres and orders were filled in week.

We recognised infrastructure was key to rebuilding the economy and lobbied hard for a fast track streamlining of RMA consenting for shovel-ready projects, with consenting led by the project entities, not local government. This is currently underway and being led by Minister David Parker.

We also asked for consent and bylaw changes to enable businesses and projects to operate 24-hours-a-day with multiple shifts, to speed up progress and to encourage businesses to hire more staff to fill the shifts and Auckland Council extended construction hours to 6.00AM till 8.00PM.

Making the most of the faster turn around on decisions during COVID-19 we kept pushing for:

  • Reintroduction of the 90-day trial period to enable businesses to trial staff seeking to enter new industries and roles. This is still in discussion.
  • Allowing open book procurement by Government enabling lead contractors to be appointed to major projects quickly. This is being implemented.
  • Bringing forward maintenance activity throughout New Zealand on roads, rail, hospital and schools, the latter while students are at home. This is underway.
  • Re-purposing the Provincial Growth Fund to provide small local councils with the funding they need to kick-start those maintenance programmes. Implemented by Government.
  • Changing foreign investment rules and fast tracking OIO approvals to encourage private sector investment into new projects and expanded production activity. This under discussion.

Knowing the country was going to need a lot of support once businesses could get back to relative normality we also focused on the next stage of the pandemic, including:

  • Delivering the Business Helpline in the North Island working alongside the Regional Business Partners to provide businesses with advice, information and also access to voucher funding.
  • Coordinating industry input into the Manufacturing Recovery Plan with government agencies, and I am currently chairing this group.
  • Providing input into the establishment of the Workforce Development Councils and Regional Skills Leadership Groups that will provide key leadership in the vocational education response to the need for increasing the skills capability of our workforce.
  • Advocating for an accelerated depreciation regime to encourage businesses to modernise, particularly around digital technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics, that could step change productivity and enhance competitiveness.
  • Working with government agencies on the redeployment of workers.

With our wider network partners BusinessNZ we also:

  • Worked with government on a revision of the first iteration of the wage subsidy managing to remove the $150,000 cap and clarify the meaning of ‘best endeavours’ to pay staff 80% of existing wages.
  • We advocated to Ministers and MBIE to get further clarity around the definition of an ‘essential business’.
  • We asked for a Business Loan Guarantee Scheme to assist small and medium businesses – similar to the Australian scheme. The Government agreed to the terms with the banks and businesses turning over 250k and 80m were able to access up to 500k.
  • Both during and post lockdown we continued to work with Businesses to identify issues with the assistance package schemes and managed to get revisions through and gain clarity around issues like employer obligations to part time staff.
  • Along with IOD we also advocated for and achieved an amendment to the rules around trading while insolvent, to ensure a 6-month safe harbour in COVID-19 conditions.

We were agile and government responded in an environment that needed fast decisions to save jobs and keep businesses afloat. That need hasn’t changed.

Now we are out of lockdown and entering an election phase and while the urgency for a fast turn-around on decisions has not decreased, we are slipping back into business as usual with delays to decisions that impact jobs, businesses and the economy.

From the high numbers of members that attended our recent Winter Member Briefing’s it is clear there is still of a lot of work to do in the advocacy space with key government policies. I heard many stories about how member businesses were coping and the issues you raised have formed part of our election policy manifesto to be released next month.

We will continue to advocate on these and other issues and fight for a more streamlined advocacy process so the few positives that came out of COVID-19 are not lost.

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