Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat, delivered the Budget speech for the Financial Year 2019 in Parliament yesterday. Budget 2019 will focus, as the minister said, on five key things. Keeping Singapore safe and secure, continuing to transform the economy, building an inclusive society, building Singapore as a global city, and achieving these goals in a responsible and sustainable way.
One of the key thrusts of the budget is to support the building of deep enterprise capabilities. “The basic building blocks of a vibrant economy are strong, competitive companies that maximize value creation,” the minister said. Companies at different stages of growth have different needs. While the leadership of each company is in the best position to lead and drive changes, government agencies can provide support at each stage of growth.
Noting that the start-up ecosystem is flourishing, he said, “two years ago, the government launched Startup SG to provide holistic support for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Today, more than 150 global venture capital funds, incubators, and accelerators are based in Singapore, supporting start-ups here and in the region”.
“Start-ups can only thrive if they scale up, and venture into new markets. To help them do so, we will provide support in three areas: providing customized assistance, better financing options, and supporting technology adoption,” the minister said.
Enterprise Singapore will launch a Scale-up SG programme in partnership with the private and public sectors. Scale-up SG will work with aspiring, high-growth local firms to identify and build new capabilities, to innovate, grow, and internationalize.
To support innovation, the government will launch a pilot Innovation Agents programme, for firms to tap on a pool of experts to advise them on opportunities to innovate and commercialize technology.
This year, the government will set aside an additional $100 million to establish SME Co-Investment Fund (CIP). As part of the CIP, it will catalyze investment in Singapore-based SMEs that are ready to scale up. “We expect that this will bring in at least $200 million of additional funding, the finance minister adds.
Helping people seize opportunities
While the government will support their enterprises to build deep capabilities so that they can succeed in the global competition, their ultimate goal is to enable people to continue to have good jobs and opportunities and to be at their best. Hence, the second thrust of the economic transformation in this budget is to deepen the capabilities of workers.
“Our people need to be nimble to build industry-relevant skills throughout their lives. We want our people to have the skills, knowledge, and attitude to adapt and thrive in this competitive and technology-intensive environment,” the minister adds.
The minister reiterated the role of leadership of companies. The leaders of successful companies are those who are committed to raising the capabilities of their workers, by redesigning jobs and reskilling their staff. These capabilities are key to the companies’ successes.
Citing FairPrice as a good example of how an enterprise can strive to serve her customers better, deploy technology and new ways of working, the minister said, “on the part of the government, we will continue to invest in our people across all stages of their lives, from pre-school, to work”.
Push on upskilling and reskilling
Workers need to embrace upskilling and reskilling and make the most of new opportunities both locally and overseas. “Firms must step up training and job redesign for their workers, as they are well-placed to know the skills that workers need as their sectors evolve. Besides workers and firms, unions, TACs, and professional bodies need to spearhead the reskilling and the upskilling of workers in various sectors,” the finance minister stated.
The Career Support Program launched in 2015 to provide wage support for employers to hire eligible Singaporeans who are mature and retrenched, or are in long-term unemployment, will be extended for two years.
“We need to act decisively to manage the manpower growth in Services, and encourage our companies to revamp work processes, redesign jobs, and reskill our workers. Our workforce growth is tapering, and if we do not use this narrow window to double down on restructuring, our companies will find this even harder in the future,” he said.
Relying on more and more foreign workers is not the long-term solution, “what we need is to have a sustainable inflow of foreign workers to complement our workforce, while we upgrade our Singaporean workers and build deep enterprise capabilities in these sectors. We must enhance the complementarities of our local and foreign workers”, he added.
Driving the next phase of growth
For our next phase of growth, the government will continue to build Singapore’s position as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation, and enterprise. This will open up new opportunities for our firms and our people to ride on the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Our efforts to achieve this will build on the same three key thrusts as laid out for the broader economic transformation. First, investments in research and innovation by our universities, research institutes, and our firms; second, investments in our people; and third, building global partnerships.
First, they will continue to invest in R&D to support the push to make innovation pervasive. The government has set aside $19 billion as part of our five-year Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2020 plan.
We are doing more to help older Singaporeans earn more, save more, and have greater peace of mind during their retirement years, the minister added.
The Government has set up a Tripartite Workgroup to study the concerns of older workers. The Workgroup is reviewing policies such as the retirement and re-employment age, and the CPF contribution rates of older workers. They will present their recommendations later this year.