Compliance costs a new, growing worry: Poll

About 66 per cent of survey respondents say that manpower issues are a major concern. Other significant worries include rising competition and how to grow revenue, both of which about half the firms surveyed are concerned about.
About 66 per cent of survey respondents say that manpower issues are a major concern. Other significant worries include rising competition and how to grow revenue, both of which about half the firms surveyed are concerned about.ST FILE PHOTO

Manpower, rising competition, revenue still key issues for firms, and they want govt help

Operating costs and manpower- related challenges have been perennial issues for companies and remain key concerns, according to a survey out yesterday.

It also found that companies are becoming increasingly worried about the rising cost of complying with government regulations.

About 68 per cent of respondents cited operating costs as a key challenge in the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) survey, which polled more than 1,100 companies between Oct 10 and Nov 23.

About 66 per cent said manpower issues are a major concern. Other significant worries include rising competition and how to grow revenue, both of which about half the firms surveyed were concerned about.

While these issues have regularly emerged in previous surveys, this year's poll also showed that apprehension over government compliance costs is increasing, noted SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

About 31 per cent of respondents cited government regulations as a key challenge - ahead of issues such as access to finance, technological change and disruption, and access to overseas markets.

Said Mr David Black, managing director of research firm Blackbox Research, which collaborated with SBF on the survey: "Compliance issues are slightly different across sectors, but there is a collective sense, especially in these tough economic times... People are starting to feel a little strangled."

Businesses are also hoping for more government assistance to tide over this period of slowing economic growth, the poll found.

More than a third of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large firms polled called for more short- to medium-term support.

Measures to help with manpower issues are at the top of company wish lists for the upcoming Budget, followed by lower government compliance costs, fees and taxes.

The survey also showed that the majority of companies recognise the need to transform in the face of slowing growth and technological disruption.

However, SMEs seem less enthusiastic about this - 36 per cent of large companies strongly agree with the need to transform, compared with only 15 per cent of smaller firms.

SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng said that this means more can be done to get the message out to SMEs about the importance of economic restructuring and upgrading.

"There is always this discussion about when is a good time to transform - when the economy is good or when the economy is bad," said Mr Teo.

"When times are good, people have no time to think about restructuring. When times are bad... the worry is that any changes will make things worse. There is never a good or bad time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Compliance costs a new, growing worry: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe