TO SPUR private-sector support for companies amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the Singapore government will match part of the funds raised to support businesses in the year ahead.

Public agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) will put up to S$1 million into each support fund set up by trade bodies, under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience (Steer) scheme launched by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng on Tuesday.

ESG’s 20 per cent fund-matching commitment covers grants to keep businesses afloat, such as working capital; growth efforts, such as branding and market diversification; and capability upgrading like training.
Said Dr Tan: “We will continue supporting our trade associations and chambers (TACs) and other industry groups to help companies get through today’s economic uncertainties and prepare for tomorrow’s recovery.”

In the first fund to get money under Steer, the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) has revived a member assistance scheme that was previously active during the dot-com burst in 2001, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis in 2003, the global financial crisis, and an economic slowdown from 2012 to 2014.

It has set up a S$1.23 million kitty for its more than 300 members to use business development activities, such as taking part in trade fairs, adopting digital business solutions, or sending staff on training courses. Of that sum, S$225,000 is from ESG.

The amount set aside by the SFIC – which president Mark Yong told The Business Times will be reviewed down the road – is slightly less than what it allocated during Sars, but more than during the global financial crisis.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago, you didn’t source as much from China, but now, a lot of the supply chain is very dependent on China,” he explained. More firms also sell to Chinese retailers.

In line with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing’s call to diversify sources and markets, Mr Yong said that the relief fund could help SFIC members find new market partners and diversify sales into regions such as India and Eastern Europe.

Other recent private-sector lifelines, separate from Steer, include the S$5 million Helping Our Promising Enterprises (Hope) fund with prominent local backers such as Goldbell Group.
The Hope fund, which offers short-term working capital loans to small businesses, is not eligible for government matching as Steer does not support the extension of loans.

ESG clarified with BT that similar funds, which include loans among their activities, would need to have ring-fencing to get Steer support.

TACs, as well as industry tie-ups of five or more companies, can apply for Steer until March 2, 2021.
ESG will assess their proposals on factors such as the types of aid and number of local small and medium-sized enterprises helped. The money must be used within 18 months.

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