SBF’s wish list for budget

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 US$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 Manpower Ministry to set aside US$320mil 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 Dec 31,2021 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. — The Straits Times/ANN

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