Smaller enterprises 'stand to gain from Budget 2019'

Singapore

A PANEL of industry experts were unanimous in their view that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a lot to benefit from this year's Budget.

Their sentiment came through at the seminar titled "Budget 2019: What's In It for (S)ME?", held at the NTUC Centre on Wednesday.

Organised by sgsme.sg, a business resource portal powered by The Straits Times, The Business Times and Lianhe Zaobao, the event was the first of six business-empowerment series supported by RHB Bank and co-hosted by U-SME, the SME arm of NTUC.

The seminar is aimed at entrepreneurs, business owners and individuals looking to ride on the national's economic restructuring and transformation drive.

The guest of honour at the inaugural seminar was Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Tan Wu Meng.

Individual speakers spoke on topics such as government funding and scaling, and then came together for a panel discussion moderated by Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.

The streamlining of existing financial schemes was a subject that popped up frequently. Kurt Wee, President of Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) said the consolidation will come as a boon to businesses.

"The simpler structures are going to help SMEs navigate and tap these support schemes better," he said, noting the several satellite resource centres set up to assist companies in accessing the available and correct type of government funding.

Vikram Khanna, associate editor of The Straits Times, pointed out, however, that companies must fundamentally possess a clear road map if they want to succeed: "They first need to have a plan and be clear about what they would like to change."

The upcoming cut to the foreign workers quota, which could tighten the manpower crunch already faced by the hospitality and services sectors, was also discussed.

Mr Wee said the fight for talent is a global one, while Mr Khanna stressed the importance of "skills, not nationality".

Ahmad Nazmi Idrus, senior economist at RHB Investment Bank, said Singapore's ageing population could further shrink the workforce of the future, but cited Japan's method of automating certain jobs through technology and robotics as a possible solution to overcoming the problem.

PwC's Partner (Corporate Tax Advisory Services) Allison Cheung said it is also essential for businesses owners to give feedback to the relevant agencies about the support they are getting, especially if things are not going right.

"I can see rectification actions being taken - Budget 2019 is an improvement on last year's and what we learnt from the past that didn't work is being made into something that might work this year," she observed, "So it helps when the market and public give their honest feedback to the appropriate channels."

Summing all the issues covered, Mr Mills called Budget 2019 "a classic Singapore Budget" as it is fiscally sustainable and builds upon previous years' Budgets: "There is help available for businesses of all shapes and sizes and sectors, but first, there is a necessity to do our own homework."