Shift priorities from short to long-term issues: SBF chief to firms

Latest SBF annual survey flags rising business costs and wages as key concerns

Singapore

A SHORT-TERM view may be leading businesses to overlook more significant, long-term issues, Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief Ho Meng Kit lamented on Tuesday.

He said: "If you ask me, while there are short-term distractions in terms of competitiveness and costs, it's the longer term issues that companies really need to be concerned about."

For example, he cited imminent labour issues like training employees in new skills for the future, extending the working age for mature workers, and hiring younger workers.

"Those are issues that will hit us harder and harder and harder every year," he said.

In any case, companies that are profitable and paying taxes also "have no reason" to ask the government for a "goodie" in the form of a reduction or rebate, Mr Ho added.

His views come in the wake of findings from the SBF's latest annual survey which shows increasing business costs - such as in rental and raw materials - and rising wages are the key concerns for businesses in 2020. Tax reliefs, and easier access to government resources are at the top of their Budget wish lists, a shift from last year when support for foreign manpower and tech adoption were in demand.

While some industry players concur that companies may be too focused on the short term in seeking those Budget measures, they say the concerns, especially for SMEs, were understandable.

"Many of us look at immediate needs because we're just living hand to mouth," said Ang Yuit, the vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), and managing director of local firm The Adventus Consultants.

"But for us to grow and be more successful in a sustainable way, we need to see beyond the immediate. We need to think for the business beyond the one to three years' mark."

The corporate sector, particularly SMEs, is also probably still reacting to the fallout from China's economic slowdown and the trade war, added OCBC Bank head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling, calling it a "double whammy".

In this year's survey, about 55 per cent of companies are hoping for corporate or personal income tax rate reductions as well as corporate tax rebates, according to the SBF's survey of more than 1,000 companies, of which 87 per cent are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Nearly half of the respondents also hope the government will promote and incentivise more industry-related training, and that government agencies will provide easier access to information and resources.

In addition to rising business costs and wages, manpower issues also continue to frustrate local companies, with nearly half of the respondents saying they are grappling with stricter manpower policies and regulations, like cuts in the foreign worker quota.

Speaking at a media conference on Tuesday, Mr Ho said the companies' Budget priorities signal they are focusing on short-term needs.

"This year has gone back to basics, nuts and bolts, near-term issues. I guess it's because they are challenged, because of the uncertainty," he said, adding that other surveys by the business chamber have also found local firms scaling back topline expectations.

 

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