The Small Business Friendly Approvals program, funded via a Streamline WA commitment to streamline regulatory processes in Western Australia, has seen the SBDC work with selected local governments to identify reforms that will improve the process of starting and operating a small business in each area.
The City of Wanneroo, one of the first local government authorities to commence the Approvals journey in March 2021, has plenty to show for its dedication to improving the local operating environment for small businesses.
Working together on a practical action plan
When commencing the SBDC’s Approvals Program, a working group was established, comprised of representatives from across the City of Wanneroo’s functions. This whole-of-organisation approach was critical in breaking down silos and driving transformational change.
The working group participated in a series of workshops, with the goals of:
- gaining a deep understanding of the problems facing small businesses
- identifying the greatest opportunities to make positive change and
- designing an implementation plan to improve how the City engages, communicates with and regulates its small business customers.
One of the first steps the working group took was hearing from local small businesses about their experiences getting started in the City. Some of the themes that emerged were:
- the difficulty in accessing information about the licences and permits required
- a disconnect between small businesses and City staff
- long and unexpected timeframes to gain approvals
- disjointed application processes.
Facilitated by the SBDC, the working group mapped the customer journey and considered solutions to address these challenges, improve internal efficiencies and align with the strategic direction of the City of Wanneroo.
Four focus areas
The working group identified four reform areas to improve the experience of starting a business in the City of Wanneroo. These themes were:
- Information is clear and accessible.
- A streamlined process connects all areas.
- A business liaison approach welcomes small businesses.
- Auto-approval is the default for certain applications.
To ensure successful delivery of the reforms, the working group developed an implementation plan, drawing on input from internal subject matter experts.
The ambitious plan outlined one, three, six and longer term goals that addressed each area of reform. An important part of the process was determining the internal controls needed in order to get the plan approved, obtaining resourcing, appointing a Project Officer, and embedding internal reporting requirements.
Progress against the Small Business Friendly Approvals Implementation Plan
In less than a year since the implementation plan was endorsed by the City of Wanneroo Executive, the organisation has made significant progress in implementing reforms that make a big difference to small business.
Information is clear and accessible
The two main achievements to make information clearer and more accessible to small businesses have been the creation of the Business Wanneroo Brand and the Business Wanneroo website.
The purpose behind creating the Business Wanneroo brand was to enable more flexibility in presenting and communicating easy-to-understand information using less ‘government jargon’ to local businesses.
With the development of the brand came a need for a platform to communicate in an easily accessible way, so a standalone Business Wanneroo website was created and launched in June 2022 to improve the customer experience and enhance self-service options.
The website incorporates a range of tools including:
- infographics to provide a visual overview of the entire approvals process, along with each individual process for building, planning and health approvals
- an interactive 3-D mapping tool to explore the City’s main industrial and commercial centres
- the ability to book a pre-application meeting online and
- a self-assessment tool to assist businesses with identifying the types of approvals they needed and how to get them.
Expanding self-service options creates more time for staff to assist customers when required, and provides a more tailored experience. It also allows customers to access the information they need quickly and easily, without assistance from a staff member.
The Business Wanneroo brand and website was publicly launched at a business breakfast hosted by the Wanneroo Business Association in partnership with the City of Wanneroo and attended by the Premier of Western Australia, in June 2022.
Auto-approval is the default for certain applications
New processes were developed with internal teams to identify and enable auto-approvals for suitable activities, so that businesses could receive instant approval when submitting an online form.
Auto-approval for burn permits and home based business (category 1) applications were deemed high priority and were the first to be launched.
The burn permit auto-approval process was implemented in September 2021, and has since saved an estimated 82 hours of administration time when compared to the paper based form. Over 900 burn permits have since been auto-approved and home based business (category 1) approvals that previously took up to 2-3 weeks to process are now granted instantly online, saving approximately 70 hours of administration over the past six months.
A streamlined process connects all areas
The creation of new online application forms has led to a more streamlined process for customers and internal staff, resulting in reduced timeframes for approvals.
An interactive online customer portal is currently in development and once completed, customers will be able to lodge applications, interact with the City, provide and update any information, track their applications and access documents through the portal.
To achieve this, the City is making substantial upgrades to existing systems to enable more functionality and support a longer-term goal linking to a City-wide Customer Relationship Management (CRM) project to significantly improve customer interactions.
A business liaison approach welcomes small businesses
The project team ran a three-month business liaison trial during which additional assistance was offered to businesses with tricky, new or different business related enquiries or approvals.
Each case was considered for Business Liaison assistance by the working group, and then the business was offered individualised assistance. In most cases, multiple officers from different service units were required to service the customer.
During this time:
- Over 50 businesses received assistance – with an average of three hours spent on each case.
- Internal referrals increased as teams became more aware of the types of enquiries due to more time being spent assisting businesses, breaking down silos between teams and encouraging different teams to work together, communicate and problem solve to assist businesses.
- Businesses appreciated the extra assistance and time spent on their enquiry and felt valued – most enquiries received a positive outcome for the business and the City.
Once the trial was completed, a number of recommendations were put forward, including a recommendation that a business liaison service should form part of a comprehensive Business Support Service.
The future of Wanneroo’s Small Business Friendly approach
Based on the learnings from the first ten months of implementation, The City of Wanneroo planned the next phase of its Small Business Friendly Approvals journey through the development of a new Action Plan to run from July 2022 to June 2024, with refined reform areas and the actions required to implement the next phase of the project.
The City is continuing to foster a business friendly culture and welcoming environment for customers, including more than 13,0001 existing businesses in the area, and those that are yet to start.
- Find out more about the Small Business Friendly Approvals Program
- Read about the progress and expansion of the program in Taking a customer-first approach to regulation in local government
- Read more case studies of how Western Australian local governments are supporting their small business communities.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (June 2021), Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, June 2016 to June 2021, accessed 27 September 2022.