Panel formed to make aid to SMEs more effective

PHOTO: Panel formed to make aid to SMEs more effective

A new government-led workgroup, comprising ministries, government agencies, members of parliament and business leaders, has been formed to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here deal with the restructuring challenges they face to raise productivity levels.

The aim of the workgroup is to bring together the parties that have a good feel of the ground, such as the MPs and business leaders, and those involved in formulating policies such as the ministries and government agencies, to ensure that SMEs receive the help they need to restructure.

In particular, it will try to reach out to SMEs to raise awareness levels of schemes that they can tap, seek feedback from businesses on how current schemes can be refined to better meet their needs and, based on the comments, make recommendations to tweak the schemes or introduce new ones.

Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and chair of the workgroup, said at a media briefing: "Broadly, it will be short and long-term policies and measures that we will be looking at. So there will be some that will help SMEs overcome some immediate challenges . . . (these) will be broken down into different issues and different sectors.

"I hope that before the year ends, we will have a good sense of what areas we can actually make some recommendations on to overcome some immediate challenges."

The feedback could be used to formulate measures that can be introduced in next year's Budget, said Mr Teo.

He added that the workgroup would look into concerns of SMEs of all sizes, including micro SMEs.

"The engagement will be very extensive . . . within the heartlands itself you can see that there are many, many smaller businesses. So this is where we will depend on the advisers (the MPs) to do the outreach because they know the ground very well."

Already, MPs have begun working the ground, and the feedback is that the current schemes to help SMEs need to be refined, said Jessica Tan, MP for East Coast GRC who was speaking to the media together with Mr Teo and Tony Chew, chairman of the Singapore Business Federation.

Mr Teo noted that SMEs have found the schemes complex due to the sheer number available. Plans are afoot to continue streamlining these schemes to ensure that SMEs not only become aware of them, but that the application and approval process is shortened.

One key challenge that SMEs have brought up is the manpower constraint, said Mr Chew. Another area of concern is the cost of operations, such as rental and land cost, said Ms Tan.

Overall, "we hope to strengthen the SME sector . . . and help the sector move forward", said Mr Teo.

"We can't say we can solve all the problems but we will make our best effort to do it and to smoothen the process (to raise productivity levels)."

Sixteen MPs will join Mr Teo in the workgroup, as well as seven representatives from business chambers and agencies, and five business leaders.

Eleven government ministries and agencies such as Spring Singapore, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Manpower are also part of the workgroup.

The group will be split into two sub-committees: an advisory made up of all the MPs involved, and a business and government committee.

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