Singapore Budget 2020: Strengthening partnerships, deepening capabilities and developing people

Beyond measures to deal with near-term challenges, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also outlined plans in Tuesday's Budget for transforming the economy, caring for Singaporeans, and ensuring environmental and fiscal sustainability

Technology and innovation will drive Singapore's next phase of growth, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech on Tuesday. Including sums allocated in previous years, he is earmarking a total of $8.3 billion over the next three
Technology and innovation will drive Singapore's next phase of growth, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech on Tuesday. Including sums allocated in previous years, he is earmarking a total of $8.3 billion over the next three years to enable transformation and growth. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Technology and innovation will drive our productivity and our next phase of growth. Including sums allocated in previous years, I am allocating a total of $8.3 billion over the next three years to enable transformation and growth.

As a small, open economy, we must continue to strengthen partnerships with the world. We have an extensive network of economic links, including free trade agreements (FTAs), international investment agreements, and avoidance of double taxation agreements.

Beyond economic connectivity, we are enhancing our digital connectivity to create new value. The digitalisation of finance will also open up new ways of doing business. To make the most of our global links, we must strengthen partnerships within Singapore to bring good ideas to global markets.

Under our Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan, we are sustaining investment into promising ideas. These include artificial intelligence, industrial robotics, urban solutions and sustainability, and the biomedical sciences, among others.

Through partnerships among the Government, industry and the research community, we are turning these ideas into new businesses with global potential.

In the biomedical industry, the number of start-ups has doubled from 2014. In fact, our research institutes are part of the global fight against Covid-19, developing diagnostic kits already in use here and sent to China. This is one of the fruits of our long-term investments in research and innovation.

Within each industry, we need to strengthen partnerships to deepen industry-wide capabilities. Even as our enterprises compete to differentiate themselves, they must come together to solve common challenges.

Trade associations and chambers, or TACs, play an important role. To sustain the good progress, we will enhance our support for TACs to scale up and raise the capabilities of their industries.

Enterprise Singapore will launch a pilot Executive-in-Residence programme to fund more than 10 TACs covering all sectors of the economy, to hire experienced executives and provide expert advice to enterprises in their industries.

Merchants' associations play a critical role in upgrading heartland enterprises. This year, Enterprise Singapore will launch a new Heartland Enterprise Upgrading Programme to support such associations to drive transformation of heartland enterprises.

Our enterprises must be the incubators of innovation, the crucibles for skills upgrading, and the creators of good jobs for our people.

Many are deepening their capabilities - by innovating, digitalising and venturing overseas.

We will enhance our support to enterprises, at each stage of their growth, to deepen their capabilities in an enterprise-centric way.

Let me begin with start-ups. Our start-up ecosystem is vibrant.

This year, we will improve support for deep-tech start-ups, which are those in emerging technology areas such as pharmbio and medtech, advanced manufacturing, and agri-food tech. I will set aside an additional $300 million under Startup SG Equity. We expect this to draw more than $800 million in private funding over the next 10 years.

Beyond start-ups, many enterprises are seeking to grow. This year, we will enhance support for these enterprises through an Enterprise Grow Package to help enterprises identify business needs, adopt pre-approved digital technologies, and take the first steps to enter new markets.

First, we will launch the GoBusiness platform, a single touch point for enterprises to transact with the Government digitally.

Second, we will drive greater adoption of digital technology. We will expand the SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) Go Digital programme. Across all 23 ITM (industry transformation map) sectors, we will have Industry Digital Plans or equivalents, and enable enterprises to access pre-approved digital solutions.

Third, to help more enterprises enter new markets, we will enhance the Market Readiness Assistance grant by expanding funding support and coverage to include, for example, FTA consultancy.

We must continue to support the growth of our enterprises, and as they mature, drive deeper transformation. This year, we will introduce an Enterprise Transform Package, with a focus on leadership. Enterprise Singapore will launch the Enterprise Leadership for Transformation Programme to support business leaders of promising SMEs in achieving the next bound of growth. Over the next three years, we aim to support business leaders of 900 enterprises in business transformation, with training and mentorship.

We will work with institutes of higher learning (IHLs), banks and industry experts, and facilitate collaboration. We will continue to broaden transformation through the Enterprise Development Grant by expanding its reach. In financial year 2020, we expect to support about 3,000 projects through it.

DEVELOPING PEOPLE

The Government's promise to Singaporeans is this: Regardless of your starting point, as long as you are willing to learn, we will support you to learn throughout life.

In my pre-Budget dialogue with youth leaders, I was struck by their understanding of the importance of learning new skills and exploring new opportunities.

To support our local students to acquire cross-cultural skills and understand our region better, we will set ourselves a "70-70" target - 70 per cent of local IHL graduates to have an overseas experience, and 70 per cent of this group to have exposure to Asean, China or India.

We will introduce a new Asia-Ready Exposure Programme to support local young people's visits to cities in Asean, China or India. We will also enhance support for internships under the Global Ready Talent Programme.

We must also support our people who are already at work.

Our SkillsFuture movement seeks to enable our people to learn, develop new skills and stay employable. As of end-2019, the SkillsFuture Credit has helped over half a million Singaporeans pick up new skills and develop new interests. To further support them in this journey, the Government will invest in the next bound of SkillsFuture. To support Singaporeans to continue learning, I will provide a one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for every Singaporean aged 25 years and above.

The top-up will be available for use from Oct 1. Unlike the earlier $500 credit which had no expiry date, this top-up will expire in five years, by end-2025. This is to encourage Singaporeans to take action early to learn new skills, to make the best use of this period of economic slowdown.

Second, we want to enhance the role of enterprises in developing their staff.

I will introduce a new SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit to encourage employers to embark on the transformation of their workforce and enterprise in tandem. Employers can use this credit to defray 90 per cent of out-of-pocket costs of business transformation, job redesign and skills training. The credit, at $10,000 per enterprise, will benefit over 35,000 enterprises, most of which will be SMEs.

We will also provide more support for job redesign. The Productivity Solutions Grant supports enterprises to adopt pre-approved digital solutions and equipment. We will expand this grant to include job redesign consultancy services.

We will work with large anchor enterprises to support training for their sectors and value chain partners. We aim to partner up to 40 such enterprises to benefit 4,000 SMEs over the next five years.

Our IHLs will also work with more enterprises to enable local students to learn in a real work setting, through SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes. We will more than double the capacity of these programmes by 2025.

As more enterprises train their workers, we will deepen workplace learning capabilities. The Ministry of Education will expand the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning to two more IHLs over the next few years, and aim to benefit over 1,200 enterprises, especially our SMEs. We will recalibrate government funding towards training providers and courses with a stronger link to job and wage outcomes.

The third element in the next bound of SkillsFuture is a special focus on mid-career workers currently in their 40s and 50s. We will introduce a new SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package to help them stay employable and move on to new jobs or new roles. We aim to double the annual job placement of locals in their 40s and 50s to around 5,500, by the year 2025.

We will increase the capacity of reskilling programmes. In tandem, our employers must step up to recruit, retain and retrain our local mid-career workers. I will provide a hiring incentive to employers who hire local job seekers aged 40 and above through a reskilling programme. For each eligible worker, the Government will provide 20 per cent salary support to the employer for six months, capped at $6,000.

To improve access to reskilling programmes, I will also provide a special SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 to every Singaporean aged 40 to 60 in 2020. This will be over and above the top-up that I announced earlier.

We hope that all these initiatives will provide meaningful support to those in their 40s and 50s, to further their careers with confidence.

SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING

For our seniors who wish to work longer, earn more and save more, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced at last year's National Day Rally that we are raising the retirement and re-employment ages. We are also increasing Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for workers aged 55 to 70. To ease in these changes, I will introduce a Senior Worker Support Package comprising four measures.

First, I will refashion the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and the Additional SEC into a Senior Employment Credit, which will take effect from 2021. This will provide employers with wage offsets when they hire Singaporean workers aged 55 and above, with support levels tapering down over time.

Second, when employer CPF contribution rates go up in 2021, we will provide employers with a CPF transition offset for the year, to offset half of the increase in employer contributions.

Third, we will introduce the Senior Worker Early Adopter Grant to support enterprises that raise their own retirement and re-employment ages ahead of the legislated changes.

Fourth, we will introduce the Part-Time Re-employment Grant to support and encourage enterprises to formalise part-time re-employment provisions.

As we support workers' aspirations to work longer, we hear employers' concerns. As part of our unique tripartite system, the Government has stepped up to support both our workers and enterprises.

Even for seniors who choose to retire but wish to continue to learn and stay active, the $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up I just announced will support this. Retirees can use this to deepen their interests or even explore a whole new area - be it cooking or coding.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2020, with the headline Singapore Budget 2020: Strengthening partnerships, deepening capabilities and developing people. Subscribe