Call for SMEs to get a helping hand

PHOTO: Call for SMEs to get a helping hand

Business leaders have called on the Government to do more for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including combating greedy landlords and helping exporters.

The suggestions were aired on Monday at the SME Convention, organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

One key demand calls for a dedicated agency to handle issues relating to smaller companies.

Bosses also want more done to stop exorbitant rent rises, and more encouragement for big firms to collaborate with SMEs and help them expand abroad.

Mr Lawrence Leow, chairman of the SME Committee, an SBF-led advocacy group, told the convention: "Moving forward, we'll see more enterprises being formed and developed, and I think their importance will grow over time. Why is there no dedicated agency to look after SMEs from the very beginning?"

Fellow panellist Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, noted that there are different agencies, such as JTC Corp, IE Singapore and Spring Singapore, working closely together to support SMEs.

"Maybe we've got to have a more aligned and consolidated account management structure where we can manage through a single contact, a single point, for SMEs," Mr Teo said.

This is "work in progress", he added, as the Government has to look at what works best for SMEs - whether, for example, Spring should be responsible for all SME issues or whether there should be a new agency set up.

Different SME assistance programmes are managed by different agencies. The Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme, for example, is administered by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, while those to help SMEs expand overseas are run by IE Singapore.

Many other initiatives come under Spring's ambit.

Mr Manu Bhaskaran, the director of policy advisory firm Centennial Group and another panellist, said the Government needs to intervene in matters such as exorbitant rental hikes, which he branded as anti-competitive.

"We need a lot more emphasis on protecting the small guy from being squeezed," he said. "SMEs work hard, build up their revenues and the rents go up - the landlord creams off a lot of the hard work they have done."

Mr Teo noted that JTC is releasing a lot more industrial property over the next five years and the Government is studying what can be done in the commercial sector.

"I've been meeting some developers and trying to understand the situation. We will monitor the commercial space closely and find out whether any schemes or tax rebates or anything of the sort are necessary," he added.

Mr Leow suggested incentives such as tax reductions to government-linked companies when they partner a local SME on an overseas project.

Mr Teo responded that this was why the Government established the Collaborative Industry Project, which funds groups of companies getting together to improve productivity. "Tax incentives are possible, but whether they are motivated by that is another question," he said.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.