8 Sep 2020

Labour promises action on contactless payment charges

6:07 pm on 8 September 2020

Labour is promising to extend the Small Business Cashflow Loan Scheme and increase the interest free period.

Leader Jacinda Ardern unveiled a package of policies alongside Labour's Small Business spokesperson Stuart Nash, and Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson while campaigning in Tauranga today.

Nash said SME's are at the centre of Labour's plan for economic recovery.

If re-elected Labour would extend the loan scheme for three years, and the interest free period to two years.

It would also investigate more permanent finance support for small businesses.

"Our track record of support for SMEs demonstrates we are prepared to respond quickly to keep the engine room of our economy humming. We are now moving to the next phase to help small and medium enterprises adapt and innovate to the new business landscape," Nash said.

"Improved cash flow support, new ways to drive digital transformation, and lowering costs and regulatory impacts are at the heart of our plans to help business bounce back faster.

"Our message to small businesses is that we have got your back," he said.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern with finance spokesperson Grant Roberston and small business spokesperson Stuart Nash.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern with finance spokesperson Grant Roberston and small business spokesperson Stuart Nash. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Labour also promised to "tighten regulations" around merchant service fees charged by banks to retailers.

"Retailers are estimated to pay on average $13,000 more than their Australian counterparts each year on merchant service fees. This needs to change.

"The point where customers transact with businesses is a source of both health and economic concern. Contactless payments give customers and businesses greater peace of mind as we all work to eliminate the virus", Nash said.

Labour also pledged more support for digital transformation for SMEs through a $2500 Digital Training Voucher and to promote digital commerce, like e-invoicing.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern unveiled a package of policies alongside Small Business spokesperson Stuart Nash in Tauranga on 8 September, 2020.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern unveiled a package of policies alongside Small Business spokesperson Stuart Nash in Tauranga on 8 September, 2020. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Nash said the party would also mitigate compliance costs and overhaul the Accounting Income Method tax regime.

"Central government regulations are also in the frame as we undertake to put small businesses at the heart of decision-making. A dedicated cross-government unit will be tasked with ensuring all proposed new regulations are considered from the perspective of SMEs.

"Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and will continue to be at the centre of our policies. We will keep up the momentum of recovery," Nash said.

Changes welcomed

Advocacy group Small Business Voice chief executive Max Whitehead said the move to slash payWave fees was well-overdue.

He said merchant service fees were frustrating and in some cases crippling for businesses dealing with the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic - and in comparison with Australia, he said it was clear New Zealand business were "getting abused".

"Small businesses are really doing their best out there to help our economy, to pay their taxes and to get our country back on its feet again. It's those silly little things like this where people are exploiting small businesses, because they don't have the strength of a big business, that is really costing our nation right now," he said.

"Small businesses, banks, the government, everyone should be saying, look guys, let's try make business easier for small businesses right now. So I think the pressure should be put on across the spectrum."

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said changes brought about by Visa and Mastercard last month had already trickled down to businesses and made it a little bit easier for them to afford merchant service fees.

But he welcomed the idea of the government playing more of a regulatory role.

Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford

Greg Harford. Photo: Supplied

"It is good news for retailers and any business that accepts card payments, that there is likely to be more downwards pressure on fees associated with accepting them. The cost of accepting credit and contactless debit transactions in New Zealand has been historically two to three times more than it has been in places like Australia and the UK," he said.

However, he said today's announcement was "pretty general" and he looked forward to seeing how it progressed.

"I think there is quite a lot of detail that will need to be worked through about exactly how this is going to work," he said.

What the National Party thinks

National says Labour's promise to reduce paywave fees for small businesses is a "fig leaf".

National leader Judith Collins says while they support the move - this doesn't cover costs imposed under Labour that are hurting small business - like the minimum wage increase, fuel taxes, and 90-day trials.

She says small businesses are doing it extremely tough right now and they need more support.

National's finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, says: "While small businesses will welcome any support from the government, what they really need is an understanding of the pressure they are under.

"Small businesses are concerned about the mounting debts they have as a result of subsequent lockdowns and meeting their payroll.

"National knows small businesses need cash flow and support to invest in their businesses. We have recently released a comprehensive policy package including a number of tax changes to reduce the cost of compliance on small businesses."

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