More support to help SMEs cope with challenges

Published: 4:02 AM, August 19, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, August 20, 2013

SINGAPORE — More support will be given to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) here to help them meet the challenges of economic restructuring, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally yesterday.

In his Mandarin speech, Mr Lee said that Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Teo Ser Luck would be meeting different business representatives to find out how to better support them.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the rally, which was held at ITE College Central at Ang Mo Kio, Mr Teo said the Government began speaking to businesses last year through an industry-led committee. These included start-ups, long-time SMEs and heartland stores.

The next step will be to “deepen the understanding of industry by sector”, he said, adding that some of the issues he wants to focus on are manpower, rental and the cost of operations.

Mr Lee acknowledged the difficulties faced by SMEs, especially when it came to manpower. While SMEs have tried hard to raise productivity, improve service standards and reduce labour costs, they have limited resources and cannot meet all these challenges on their own, he said.

He noted their reliance on foreign manpower and reiterated the need to control the number of such workers, which are still rising. There will be “serious consequences” if these numbers are left unchecked, he warned.

The foreign worker issue is “complex” and the Government cannot meet all the demands, but it will help SMEs “find a way to make it”, he said.

Earlier this year, the Government rolled out a three-year, S$5.3 billion Transition Support Package to help SMEs reduce business costs and raise productivity. While there are many schemes to help SMEs, businesses may not know what is available, Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also gave the assurance that the Government would do more to help the low-income group and strengthen social safety nets. He urged individuals and the community to step up and complement the Government’s efforts.

There is a need to help those with less to “strengthen social cohesion” so that the nation does not become divided between the rich and the poor, he said, adding that wages of the low-income group must be raised. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMANDA LEE