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Budget 2008: Businesses highlight what’s ‘wanting’

Panelists cite lack of measures to cut business costs, tackle manpower crunch

IT’S not just relief from rising costs that businesses find wanting in the 2008 Budget.

They could also do with help to tackle a growing manpower crunch, a Budget seminar heard yesterday.

Panelists at PricewaterhouseCooper’s seminar on the Singapore Budget cited the lack of specific measures to address the immediate problems that businesses face, and the absence of any ‘green’ initiatives, among its shortcomings.

Entrepreneur and Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh – who intends to raise the issue in Parliament during the coming Budget debate – said the government may, in response, say that Singapore’s business costs are still below Hong Kong’s, among other things.

But the issue is not so much absolute costs but more the rate of cost increases, he said. There was scope in particular for the Budget to address rising rental and manpower costs, he added.

And scope to help employers overcome a shortage of people, in the view of Philip Overmyer, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.

From petrochemicals to the two integrated resorts, various sectors of the economy face problems in securing trained staff, Mr Overmyer noted.

‘And there’s nothing in this Budget that looks at this,’ he said.

Overall, the nitty-gritty of the Budget, in terms of incentives for specific industries, is good, Mr Overmyer said.

But the longer-term strategic focus – to promote innovation across the economy – appears to emphasise certain higher-end high-tech industries that lend themselves more to research and development (R&D) work. The activities that qualify for the tax perks are not quite the areas that ‘many, many small and some large companies’ delve in. Hence, some of the simpler, ‘non-fancy’ yet still important industries may be overlooked, Mr Overmyer said.

BT associate editor Vikram Khanna, another member of the panel, pointed out that R&D in Singapore is largely driven by multinational corporations. It remains to be seen if the latest tax incentives will trigger an R&D drive across industry – and particularly if small and medium-sized enterprises will ‘bite’.

 

Source: Business Times 21 Feb 08

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