'Focus on group solutions' to help SMEs: Koh Poh Koon

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon (left) and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) visiting a local precision engineering firm on March 28.
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon (left) and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) visiting a local precision engineering firm on March 28. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

More emphasis will be placed on group-based solutions to better help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) address challenging business conditions, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said yesterday.

"In order for our economy to thrive, it is critical for SMEs to become more competitive by becoming leaner and smarter," Dr Koh told the SME Centre Conference.

"There are opportunities for common business challenges to be addressed collectively, with businesses working in collaboration with one another," he noted, adding that this is especially so for SMEs in the same locality or trade.

In line with this, Ms Low Yen Ling, Mayor of Southwest District, also announced that heartland SMEs will get more support, with the collaboration between Community Development Councils (CDC), CDCs, Spring Singapore and SME Centres set to continue for the next three years.

Pledging to "deepen the partnership of the SME network with the community", Ms Low said the five satellite SME Centres at the CDCs will go beyond offering business advice through a one-stop service. These centres have helped 11,000 SMEs since they were set up in 2013.

"We will also facilitate in capabilities upgrading and deepen engagement through aggregating the needs of the SMEs by trade/locality concerns and offer possible solutions."

The aim, said Ms Low, is to help SMEs focus on solutions that improve both their top lines and bottom lines, such as by looking at certain manpower concerns which can translate to better business growth.

"SMEs are not just the lifeblood of our economy, but they also play a very important role in the community," she noted. "It's important for us to work even closer with the SME Centres to better support the heartland SMEs so that they're also well-placed to provide employment for residents living in the precinct."

Such a group-based approach has already achieved good results, said Dr Koh.

He cited the Manufacturing Productivity Technology Centre at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, which has helped 116 SMEs in the manufacturing sector improve their productivity by at least 20 per cent since being set up in 2014.

Dr Koh added that the Government will also work with trade associations and chambers to support the development of SMEs via the Local Enterprise and Association Development (Lead) initiative, which will be extended through a new Lead-Plus programme as announced during the Budget.

He said more details on the programme will be disclosed during the Committee of Supply debates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline ''Focus on group solutions' to help SMEs'. Print Edition | Subscribe