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Industry experts agree SMEs stand to gain from Budget 2019

A PANEL of industry experts unanimously agreed that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have a lot to benefit from this year's Budget.

That was the sentiment at the seminar Budget 2019: What's In It for (S)ME?, held on Wednesday morning at NTUC Centre.

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.

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

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Individual speakers touched on topics including government funding and scaling before coming together for a panel discussion moderated by the CEO of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, Victor Mills.

The streamlining of existing financial schemes was a subject that popped up frequently. Kurt Wee, president of ASME (Association of Small and Medium Enterprises) noted 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, while adding there are plenty of satellite resource centres to assist companies in accessing the available and correct type of government funding.

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

The upcoming foreign worker quota cut which could further impact the manpower crunch currently faced by the hospitality and services sectors was also discussed.

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

Ahmad Nazmi Idrus, senior economist at RHB Investment Bank, also pointed out 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 that problem.

According to PwC's Partner (Corporate Tax Advisory Services), Allison Cheung, it is also essential for business 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' Budget. "There is help available for businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors but first, there is a necessity to do our own homework."