Singapore firms want Budget 2021 to help with loans, timely payments and rebates: SBF

SMEC recommends the Government extend the scheme until March 2022. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - To help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) emerge stronger from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Singapore Business Federation's (SBF) SME Committee (SMEC) has put forth six proposals for the Budget 2021 due in February.

The SMEC said it hopes the recommendations will allow companies to gain access to necessary resources, build resilience to overcome future crises and create more value for their businesses.

It has asked the Government to extend the temporary bridging loan programme (TBLP) until March 2022, speed up the public sector's payments to suppliers, and extend foreign worker levy (FWL) rebates to more sectors.

The other proposals include helping to improve SMEs' cybersecurity preparedness amid the digitalisation of businesses, training and upskilling the local workforce for tech roles, and providing innovative companies with customised support.

While businesses are grateful for the support from the Government amid the challenging operating conditions due to Covid-19, economic recovery remains uncertain and uneven, said SBF chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit.

"It is crucial that adequate support measures continue to be in place to help businesses address current issues and, at the same time, to position them for future growth," he said.

Elaborating on the recommendations, the SMEC said the TBLP - which provides access to working capital - remains a vital scheme for companies that have assessed their business viability and are well positioned to take on additional risks to emerge stronger from the pandemic and expand their operations.

As recovery is expected to remain uncertain and uneven across sectors, the SMEC recommends the Government extend the scheme until March 2022.

Meanwhile, timely payments can help ensure the vibrancy and sustainability of businesses and are especially critical during an economic downturn, where managing costs and falling demand across sectors may pose challenges on multiple fronts for businesses, said the SMEC.

To set a new benchmark for the private sector, payment terms between the Government and its suppliers can be reduced from 30 to 14 days, it said.

For smaller contracts below $100,000, payment to suppliers can be made within five working days, provided that the delivery of the services or products is satisfactory.

The proposal on FWL rebates stems from the August 2020 decision by the Ministry of Manpower to set aside $320 million worth of rebates until December 2021 for firms in the construction, marine shipyard, and process sectors.

The SMEC believes the rebate can be extended to other sectors till 31 December 2021 including food and beverage, hospitality and logistics services to help alleviate some of the manpower and cash flow challenges that SMEs in these sectors are facing.

The proposal on cybersecurity is aimed at speeding up the digitalisation of local companies.

The SMEC said the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore can work with relevant industry partners to appoint a list of pre-approved cybersecurity advisers for SMEs to harness their expertise for the prevention and remediation of malicious cyber activities.

SMEs across all sectors can be guided by these cybersecurity advisers to tap on relevant initiatives such as the SMEs Go Digital programme, GoSecure programme, and the Productivity Solutions Grant offered by Enterprise Singapore.

To recruit and develop the next generation of Singapore's tech talent, the Economic Development Board announced the Tech.Pass scheme in November 2020 to attract up to 500 proven founders, leaders, and experts from established or fast-growing tech companies to Singapore.

The SMEC believes that the Tech.Pass scheme can be enhanced to include the training and upskilling of the local workforce as a key requirement, including accelerating career conversions of PMETs from non-tech roles to tech roles.

It acknowledged that the Government has provided much needed support for businesses to adopt innovative solutions to transform and remain globally competitive.

However, more customised solutions to help businesses through the entire value chain, from conceptualisation to commercialisation, may be required, said the SMEC.

SMEs can be guided on areas of managing and monetising their intellectual properties (IPs); scaling regionally and globally; building an efficient, effective and motivated workforce; and positioning themselves to capitalise on potential investments to fund their growth and expansion plans, it said.

The Government can provide companies, which have innovative solutions, with customised support based on their readiness to scale.

The support can include guiding them in areas of IP management, internationalisation, company culture development and positioning themselves for investments.

Mr Kurt Wee, chairman of the SBF SMEC, said, companies need to take immediate actions to review their business models and right-size their manpower needs with the relevant skill sets to remain resilient and competitive.

"We also urge companies to proactively seek out new resources and tap on available grants to transform their businesses in order to take advantage of the eventual recovery," he said.

Separately, PwC Singapore also released its Budget 2021 proposals on Wednesday, in which it suggested various tax measures including extending tax relief to employees who have to set up a home office.

Businesses could also be allowed to claim input tax in full on expenses related to remote working, such as employees' utilities and mobile phone fees, it added.

Other proposals include support for growing sectors such as the agriculture and food industry. For example, tax deductions for capital costs on the construction of buildings used for food farming.

PwC Singapore's tax leader Chris Woo said: "With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the instability of the global geopolitical climate, this Budget will need balance providing support for transformation that is sustainable while increasing needed government tax revenue based on a broader purpose to grow Singapore's economy."

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