The many new and varied government incentive schemes showcased in the recent Budget has seen small companies highlighting their concerns about navigating through them.

At the Post-Budget Convention on Monday, council members representing the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) said small firms are under the most duress to ease the cost of restructuring, despite the implementation of various latest measures.

The meeting, chaired by the Ministry of Finance and organised by ASME, saw a turn-up of close to 450 small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs)

The government’s intentions are clear: dependence on foreign workers are to be reduced and companies forced to boost their productivity. The topic of foreign labour was not even directly addressed at the conference.

SMEs wanted to know how they were going to navigate through the complexity of the various schemes introduced by the government and how speedily they can get their money approved under the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme. Many also wanted information on how they can better utilise the new government grants available and how they may be able to restructure their companies to stay relevant and competitive.

According to Vice President of Communications ASME, Thomas Fernandez, “The Wage Credit scheme prompted a lot of questions about how it could be made use of and when it can be claimed. If we have to pay the workers now and claim later, cost of doing business will increase. If you look at the Budget this year, it talks about restructuring so if the smaller ones do not restructure, they really have to ship out.”

Small companies are slowly digesting other schemes available, such as the Collaborative Industry Project (CIP) which aims to get SMEs and key industry players to work together by pooling resources, and the Market Readiness Assessment scheme.

Fernandez added that some SMEs were adopting a wait-and-see attitude. He also said that the services industry will be the hardest hit as SMEs have to look not only at raising salaries to get people but they also have to back it against the productivity of each worker.

To expedite the application process, council members say the newly revamped one-stop Enterprise Development Centres may play a role in shortening the process.