16 January 2016
Firms want more help to tackle challenges
Grace Leong

SINGAPORE: Business leaders asked for more help to meet challenges in the face of the most pessimistic Singapore growth projection in more than a decade.

Participants at a pre-Budget roundtable want firms to be given more support in adjusting to economic restructuring as well as tax relief and financing to encourage businesses that promote innovation and venture overseas.

Repositioning Singapore's economy from one that focuses on value adding to value creation in the face of slowing growth and a fast-ageing population were among key goals raised at the forum.

"In the last four to five years, the Government has focused the Budget rightly on social policies and spending on healthcare and housing," said Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit at the pre-Budget roundtable, which was organised by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA).

"But it is time, in this weak environment, for a strong signal that the Government will shift to pro- growth policies for businesses."

Singapore's growth this year is forecast to come in as low as 1 per cent to 3 per cent, weighed down by China's slowdown and sluggish global demand.

Mr Ho warned of a rising number of small businesses facing challenges managing cash flow as suppliers are taking longer to pay and projects are being cancelled.

"Net cash of small businesses has dwindled from $1.2 million-$1.3 million to $700,000 in 2014. Managing cash flow is important as it can affect their credit rating," he said.

While this isn't a crisis yet, it will only get worse as interest expenses on existing loans are rising, and loan renewals are getting harder, Mr Ho said.

He proposed bringing back working capital finance schemes, or bridging loans with part of interest costs subsidised by the Government. This could help small businesses survive expected low growth over the next three to four years.

A survey conducted last November by ISCA of 550 respondents found more were downbeat about revenues, operating margins and employee headcount. Cutting rent, training and operating costs and getting help to access funding top their Budget wishlists, while issues like reducing manpower regulations, support for venturing overseas, technological investments and branding ranked lower.

Less than half surveyed said they were looking forward to the Asean Economic Community, although there was good awareness of government assistance schemes for this, ISCA research director Miao Bin noted.

"But with more success stories materialising, more should see this as a greater opportunity to grow."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Trade and Industry, said the emergence of disruptive technologies may pose a threat to workers and businesses if they fail to keep up or adapt.

"Even before the full impact of disruptions hit us, we are already beginning to see job creation slowing," he added.

To rev up productivity, businesses have to start focusing on robotics, digitisation and improving workflow, or venture overseas to spur revenue growth, Mr Brendon Yeo, executive council member of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said.

CR: The Straits Times

Link: http://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/firms-want-more-help-to-tackle-challenges