No need for a 'super agency' to help SMEs: Spring Singapore

Coordination and collaboration are key, not a single SME authority, says Spring


SPRING Singapore dismissed the SME Committee's recommendation for a single SME authority on Friday, saying the focus should instead be on coordination and collaboration. The proof is in the pudding - Spring and its partners in 2014 reached out to some 160,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore, compared with 103,000 the previous year.

In terms of projects supported, the 12,000 upgrading projects undertaken by SMEs - when fully implemented - create S$8 billion value-add to the economy and 22,000 jobs.

Tan Kai Hoe, Spring's chief executive, declined to reveal how much the agency had disbursed to SMEs over the last year, but alluded to it: "Our internal guide that we've been able to stick to, is that for every dollar I use in tax payers money, I want to get back S$20. So that gives you a rough gauge on where we are." This translates to an estimated S$400 million.

These projects were undertaken by 9,000 SMEs, said the agency at its year-in-review event. Close to 90 per cent were micro and small enterprises (with S$10 million or less in annual revenue).

Compared to 2013, Spring then supported more than 3,400 SMEs throughout the year. The increase is in part due to the productivity improvement push, and also the enhancement of the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme which saw a multi-fold pick-up. More than 7,000 SMEs used the ICV to improve their business in 2014, compared with 2013 when only 1,700 vouchers were given out.

"What we are seeing on the ground is that companies are making the effort to improve their productivity. But whether that so quickly translates into this gross measure which we call value-add per worker at the industry level, I think that will take time," said Mr Tan. "Secondly, when we look at that gross measure, it is a long-term measure of productivity. And in the short term, that measure is usually affected a lot by the actual economic situation on the ground."

Instead, Spring measures the productivity of the companies that embark on its productivity improvement projects through a spectrum which includes sales per worker, table-turn per worker, sales per square foot.

Beyond one-on-one help, Spring also embarked on numerous industry association collaborations. Together with its partners, including the Restaurant Association of Singapore which it worked with to implement shared services for food companies, it spurred more than 1,000 food companies to embark on productivity projects last year.

"There are 180,000 SMEs in Singapore and they are very different - in size, scope, in the kind of business they are in, in the type of licensing and regulations they have to go through, the types of business challenges they have. So really, I think it's quite a tall order to expect one agency (to deal with all this)," said Mr Tan in response to the question of a single SME authority. "It's about coordination. You don't need to create a super agency that can do all this."

Philip Yeo, chairman of Spring Singapore, added: "IE Singapore's skills are on trade, trade exhibitions, and opening doors. And for that it has offices overseas. Spring focuses on companies here, helping them grow locally, and then (we) export them to IE.

"So this idea of one-stop shop for everything doesn't make sense... If you are sick you don't see one doctor, you see different doctors for different treatments. This is the same... they want us to be a GP (general practitioner)?"

The SME Committee had, as part of its Budget wishlist, argued the merits of a single SME authority. Having such an authority, they said, would allow a more comprehensive and coordinated approach towards managing SME issues and policy implementation across the whole-of-government.