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SMEs, trade groups to get more help to team up for industry growth

SMALL businesses in Singapore can look forward to a slew of new measures to help them expand, including more support from trade associations and chambers (TACs).

These organisations "are a store of social capital" that help the government to understand business needs and develop industry, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng, during Budget debates on Tuesday.

Dr Tan noted that government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) has been building strategic roadmaps with TACs "to help them adopt longer-term plans to transform industry".

For example, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) will soon launch a market advisory scheme in tandem with the ESG, to take small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) into South-east Asia, as well as emerging markets in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

TACs are also being brought on board for Executive-in-Residence, a two-year pilot where trade groups match experienced industry professionals with companies that need transformation and growth guidance. ESG will cover up to 70 per cent of fees for engaging these executives.

Meanwhile, the government looks forward to working with TACs on the Enterprise Leadership for Transformation (ELT) programme earlier unveiled in Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's Feb 18 Budget, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat.

The three-year ELT pilot aims to help some 900 SME business leaders to develop business growth plans through activities such as business coaching and industry networking, with the support of partners such as educational institutions, professional firms and banks.

Welcoming Singapore Manufacturing Federation president and Nominated MP Douglas Foo's suggestion that TACs also be ELT partners, Mr Chee said: "The business networks of TACs will be very valuable, and can support peer learning and collaboration."

The latest slate of policy tweaks comes on top of a boost to ESG's 11 SME Centres, which help small businesses and "micro-enterprises" with less than S$1 million in annual revenue.

Under a new two-year pilot, these centres have been handed a fresh mandate to support small and micro companies that are ready to transform and expand, with targeted help in in-depth consultations and coaching and the development of detailed business plans.

The public sector's GoBusiness Licensing portal, a one-stop shop for food services firms to get permits, will be expanded to include other sectors such as retail, Mr Chee added.

It will also feature more types of transactions, such as setting up a new business, plus an e-advisory service to recommend the government schemes that meet a company's needs.

Describing the role of public agencies "as gatekeeper, not as a goalkeeper", Mr Chee said that when businesses and regulators push boundaries and review rules together, the move fosters innovation and enterprises will benefit.