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Malay business community hopes Budget 2019 will help SMEs cope with costs: survey

THE Malay business community is hoping that the upcoming Budget 2019 will provide more help for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to cope with costs as well as better access to funding, according to survey findings from the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI).

The rising cost of labour and rental was ranked the top business concern by 64 per cent of respondents, followed by competition and disruption at 58 per cent, and increasing business regulations at 40 per cent.

Some 18.4 per cent of Malay business owners are also worried about the global economic outlook, in the face of rising trade tensions and political developments within the region, while 15.7 per cent indicated that competition and disruption was another business concern for 2019.

According to the survey, over half of respondents (62 per cent) said that they faced a 10 per cent increase in their business cost last year, while 58 per cent expect business costs to rise by over 10 per cent in 2019, in anticipation of higher labour costs.

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This comes as a large majority of SMCCI's members (approximately 46 per cent) are in the food and beverage (F&B) and retail industries – both of which have higher sensitivity to factors such as labour and rental.

Among respondents that cite manpower issues as a challenge, 52 per cent said that attracting and retaining employees is an issue. Some 36 per cent felt that Singaporeans lack "suitable skills", while 28 per cent felt that the quota to hire foreign talent is insufficient.

The SMCCI recommended manpower-related policies that will allow labour-intensive industries to continue growing their businesses. This may mean creating agile policies that will allow companies to transform at a more measured pace, especially in industries whose unique services or goods rely heavily on non-automated processes, said the SMCCI.

The survey also found that 60 per cent of respondents showed interest in expanding their business into the Asean market, while 16 per cent are interested to tap the Middle East market. However, one of the key challenges faced by businesses when expanding overseas is the lack of knowledge and information on the market. Some 40 per cent of the respondents shared that they face a shortage of funds and initial cash flow when they attempted to expand their business overseas, said the SMCCI.

The chamber added that it hopes to see a continued emphasis on assisting businesses in expanding their brand globally in Budget 2019.