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Reducing costs, improving access to funding top companies' Budget wishlist

As for their top concerns, firms said they were most worried about business and hiring costs, as well as finding skilled labour, according to a survey of 550 companies.

SINGAPORE: Reducing rental and training costs and improving access to funding came in tops in businesses' wishlist for Budget 2016, according to a survey of 550 companies by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.

As for their top concerns, businesses said they were most worried about business and hiring costs, as well as finding skilled labour.

President of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants Gerard Ee noted: "What we thought would’ve been important for the future, such as developing branding, ranked quite low, including R&D. It could be that they are so concerned with surviving right now that something for the future, which is important, tends to be on the backburner for the time being.

"For R&D, one of the peeve that has surfaced is that after working with various agencies to do the research and to develop IP (intellectual property), they find that they're not even co-owners of the IP."

The survey also showed that businesses here are becoming increasingly pessimistic on economic growth in 2016.

GROWING THE FUTURE ECONOMY

As technology continues to rapidly evolve, it will also be increasingly difficult for companies to predict product trends, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Trade and Industry Liang Eng Hwa said.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion with tax and business association leaders, Mr Liang said he expects the newly-formed Committee on the Future Economy to focus on developing the "soft infrastructure" needed to grow the future economy and helping companies to innovate.

"For example, how the Government could enable the development of innovation capabilities of companies, how we could enhance market linkages so that companies can better seize international opportunities ... how to better optimise resource and sustain skills relevancy within our workforce, and how we could be truly transformed into a smart city."

MANAGING CASHFLOW

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) said that managing cashflow has become more critical for businesses as the economy slows.
Said Mr Ho Meng Kit, CEO of SBF: "The drop in demand has become one of the top issues facing businesses, and I think this is reflective of a much slower global demand.

"But what has happened is that because of this drop in demand, small companies are facing delays in projects and delays in payment from customers. (We looked) at the cashflow of small companies and we found that their net cash has dwindled. It was about S$1.2 million or S$1.3 million in 2011, and now it's about S$700,000 net cash. I think managing cashflow for small SMEs would be important."

Mr Brendon Yeo, executive council member of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, commented: "Interest rates are something that businesses need to be very watchful of. So all that has caused a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of cutbacks on spending and investment. When we talk to the banks, a lot of banks are projecting more defaults in the second half of 2016."

Mr Liang said the issues raised will be passed on to the relevant Government agencies for consideration.

He said: "For the Government, we've always been pro-business in helping businesses overcome cyclical changes and so on. But the Government will really come in, in a more decisive way, when they see the downturn hitting jobs.

"When you see jobs really impacted and in the case where it's impacted in the way where there could be permanent damage to our capabilities - to the extent that when the economy recovers, we don't have the capacity to do it - I think that's when the Government will come in. So that's something we're always watchful (about). At the end of the day, we're always concerned about the social impact of job losses."