Sunday 26 August 2012

Help schemes for SMEs under review

Government wants to make it easier for companies to apply for grants
By Jonathan Kwok, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2012

GOVERNMENT strategies to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are being reviewed to ensure they are simple and accessible.

The review, which comes amid complaints from businesses that some schemes are too cumbersome, started in April. The findings will possibly be announced at next year's Budget.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck told a conference yesterday that Spring Singapore and International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore) officers are meeting industry members to obtain feedback and suggestions.

They are also studying the SME development models in other economies.

"We should not expect SMEs to jump through too many hoops before they can access the Government's support. Nor should we expect them to navigate a long list of schemes to find help," he said.

He added that the Government wants to consolidate its schemes into a few simple ones and to make the application and grant disbursement processes simpler and more efficient.

Mr Teo said the Government also wants to help SMEs to innovate, brand themselves and expand overseas.

He was speaking at the 14th SME Conference organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI). More than 2,100 SME representatives attended the event at the Suntec City Convention Centre.

Mr Teo said on the conference sidelines that some SMEs say applying for schemes is "very cumbersome", and added that "they are so busy, they don't have the means or resources to get consultants to apply for all these".

He said there are 165,000 SMEs but only about 30,000 of them have applied for the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme for last year's tax returns. The scheme allows firms to file tax claims for productivity expenditures.

"You haven't captured 50 per cent of the sector yet. The question is, why not?" said Mr Teo.

Although the SME review is still under way, the Government has already taken steps to make things easier for businesses.

For instance, by next month, SMEs can apply for the $5,000 Innovation and Capability Voucher on the Internet, instead of having to make hardcopy submissions. The scheme was launched in June to encourage smaller companies to enhance their capabilities.

SMEs are key to Singapore's economy, providing 50 per cent of economic output and 70 per cent of employment.

A recent study of 521 companies by SCCCI and a centre of the Nanyang Technological University revealed some of the issues facing SMEs. About 78 per cent reported that excessive documentation required during the application processes for the various schemes was their greatest challenge, SCCCI president Teo Siong Seng told the conference.

However, 77 per cent of respondents said they found the schemes helped their companies.

Mr Thomas Beh, director of EZY Management, an SME that provides corporate secretarial services, said his company does not face many problems getting information about government schemes. This is because its officers often attend trade shows, where details of the schemes are discussed, and the staff are IT-savvy and can find the information online.

But some smaller companies may not find this information so easily, unless they go for seminars, said Mr Beh.

The conference was co-organised by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao and supported by Spring Singapore and IE Singapore.

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