A cost review committee to look into major rising costs faced by businesses, such as rental, manpower and government fees, is one of four recommendations the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) is putting before policymakers.
This includes easing compliance costs through a coordinating government agency, and a rental cap on government properties.
A second recommendation is for the Government to be more nimble, efficient and bold to create a pro-business environment for businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Third, the Government should consider developing future-ready SMEs by providing schemes to help SMEs transform, innovate and build track records both locally and abroad.
Things can also be made easier for SMEs to qualify and apply for schemes related to changing the business model and innovation.
Fourth, there should be government support through subsidies for hiring and training older workers, and help for industry trade associations to develop skills ladder classification for levy and work pass renewals. More SMEs should also be enabled to benefit from SkillsFuture, a new credit scheme that allows Singaporeans to upgrade themselves.
These recommendations were based on an SCCCI pre-Budget 2016 survey.
Businesses, particularly SMEs, are mostly pessimistic about prospects this year, going by the survey, which drew the participation of 331 companies, mostly SMEs and those in the service sector, as well as 34 trade associations.
The survey showed business sentiment has been further dampened this year, with 35 per cent of businesses projecting a decline in revenue, up from 16 per cent of 356 firms polled last year. About 44 per cent of the businesses expect a drop in profit margins this year, up from 30 per cent previously.
This year, only about a quarter of companies are optimistic about the business outlook, down from 42 per cent last year, said SCCCI.
While manpower and rental remain the key business costs, compliance costs and foreign worker levies have become an increasing burden to companies, noted the chamber.
SCCCI's concerns mirror those of the Singapore Business Federation, which last week presented an economic strategy paper that also called for the Government to refine its tight foreign labour policies.
Businesses also have to play their part. For those that have yet to do so in a meaningful way, SCCCI urges them to restructure and transform themselves.
Tyre distributor Binter & Co general manager Marcus Lim told The Straits Times that SMEs can make use of the less rosy times to reconfigure their business strategies.