Budget 2016 will look into helping SMEs in difficult period: Heng Swee Keat

A worker at Pan Asia Logistics showing Mr Heng (right) how goods are being moved through a computerised process. Accompanying the minister are (from left) the firm's senior manager Sundaram Velosamy, executive chairman Christian Bischoff and chief ex
A worker at Pan Asia Logistics showing Mr Heng (right) how goods are being moved through a computerised process. Accompanying the minister are (from left) the firm's senior manager Sundaram Velosamy, executive chairman Christian Bischoff and chief executive of Pan Asia Logistics Investment Holdings Susan Tan.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Singapore businesses need to restructure, innovate and find new markets in order to stay competitive and cope with technological changes, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (March 4).

But he acknowledged that because many firms are feeling the effects of the economic slowdown, the Government will look at how it can help small and medium-sized enterprises "meet some of the immediate challenges" in the Budget on March 24.

"Our aim is to help companies to navigate through this very difficult period," said Mr Heng, who was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to Pan Asia Logistics Singapore in Tuas.

But he noted that it was equally important to help Singapore companies continue with the "restructuring journey", including finding new ways of doing things and looking for growth opportunities overseas.

Mr Heng, who will be presenting his first Budget, noted that Pan Asia Logistics has done just this, automating and re-engineering its work processes in order to stay competitive.

"So you have a warehouse that moves about half a million parts a year but has only about 25 workers," he said.

While times are bad for companies in some sectors, Mr Heng also noted that some others are seeing opportunities.

"It is quite a variegated landscape now, so the policies will have to address this variegated landscape."

 

Mr Heng admitted that it would be hard to have policy measures that are specifically targeted at a particular industry, so they will be devised to be useful across the board and designed to help companies build longer-term competitive strengths.

 

As the Budget is the Government's first in its new term, the surpluses accumulated in its previous term are now locked up as "past reserves".

 

That means it will have to be "particularly prudent" this year so as to have resources when it needs to act later, said Mr Heng.

He also pointed out that Singapore is experiencing a slowdown in growth, but not a recession.

The forecast for gross domestic product growth this year remains at 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

While the Government will continue to have some social measures targeted at building a society that allows individuals to thrive, there will be a strong focus on the economy, both for the short and medium terms.

There are significant changes that are happening in the global economy, even as the global economy is slowing, he said.

 

"These are the changes that we cannot avoid and the more ready we are to change, adapt and respond to the very significant shifts around us, the better we will be," said Mr Heng.

The SkillsFuture scheme will continue to take centre stage for individuals.

"The changes are coming quite rapidly, and there's a need for us to continue to learn new skills, to be able to cope with change - whether it's new skills related to what we're doing today or new skills to allow us to get into a new industry," said Mr Heng.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Budget 2016 will look into helping SMEs in difficult period: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe