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SINGAPORE: The Government will cut red tape and remove barriers to help local businesses innovate and grow.

In an interview with 938NOW, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat referred to initiatives announced in this year’s Budget which are aimed at helping local companies.

He said the Government wants to help businesses survive and thrive so that they can transform Singapore’s economy and create good jobs.

The senior minister of state is encouraging businesses to try out their ideas. If they work, they can be rolled out to the rest of Singapore. 

“But if the idea fails, then at least it can be ‘ring-fenced’,” he said.

“This strikes a good balance between having sufficient safeguards and protection, and at the same time being flexible and open to new ideas.”

Budget 2019 included a S$1 billion package to help firms be more enterprising through the Innovation Agents and Scale-up SG programmes.

READ: More help for Singapore businesses and workers to grow and transform

Scale-up SG will work with local firms of high-growth potential to help them build new capabilities and to increase the opportunities for them to innovate, grow and go international, said Mr Chee.

At the same time, Innovation Agents will match new firms seeking advice on innovation opportunities with experienced industry experts. 

The senior minister of state also wants feedback from local businesses on how to improve the regulatory environment here.

Since 2000, the Pro Enterprise Panel (PEP) has reviewed around 2,000 suggestions, helping Singapore become more business-friendly.

As an example, Mr Chee pointed to local craft beer makers Binjai Brew.

They suggested that Singapore reviews its licensing framework to make it easier for start-ups to enter the food and beverage market. 

Binjai Brew told Mr Chee the requirement for new microbreweries to pay the full annual fee of S$8,400 upfront to Singapore Customs was a huge obstacle for young entrepreneurs.  

After reviewing the feedback, Singapore Customs agreed to change. From May, new microbreweries can choose to pay a pro-rated licence fee of S$2,100 every four months. If they decide to call it quits after three months, Singapore Customs will refund the unused fee. 

This is just one example of how changes can be made to boost the confidence of entrepreneurs, said Mr Chee.

“We believe that this is an important part of supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, which are critical elements if we want to achieve economic transformation in Singapore,” he added.

He also touched on cuts to the foreign worker quota in the services sector.

READ: ‘We agonised over this’: Chee Hong Tat explains tightening of foreign worker quota for services sector

The Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) quota will be cut in two stages from the current 40 per cent to 35 per cent by 2021.

The S Pass sub-DRC for mid-skilled foreign workers will also be lowered from 15 per cent to 10 per cent.

Budget 2019 Dependency Ratio Ceiling Graphic

Mr Chee said that the decision was a difficult one as the Government is aware of the constraints and challenges faced by companies involved, including in the accommodation, food services, retail, information and communications, as well as professional services sectors.

“We had to do it because the number of S-Pass and work permit holders in the service sector has increased by 34,000 in the last three years,” he said.

“In fact, the S-Pass numbers are the highest in the last five years. If we do not moderate this growth, the concern is that it will affect the employment outcomes of local workers, and lead to socio-political problems. We have seen this happen in other countries.”

He added that fewer foreign workers taking up services sector jobs means that these same roles will be available to locals. These jobs will also be redesigned to attract Singaporean employees, and the Government will help local companies to achieve this.

“The Government agencies and industry associations – we will walk this journey together with our companies,” he said. 

“Our commitment is that if you want to transform, and you’re willing to put in the effort to do so, we will certainly help you.”

Mr Chee Hong Tat, the Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, was speaking to 938NOW on the new weekly interview series “Question Time” which airs every Friday. To listen to the interview, go to facebook.com/938Now/ or download the MeRadio app.

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