“The government has underestimated the impact of high business costs on our future economy,” said Inderjit Singh (Ang Mo Kio), urging the government to set up a cost competitiveness committee to tackle the root causes of soaring costs before SMEs and MNCs relocate with jobs in tow. He also asked the government to reverse its land divestment policy, which he deems a key reason behind high industrial rents.
Companies are facing a “triple whammy” of rising rents and utility bills, growing wage costs, and a shortage of workers, said Mr Singh, himself a businessman. And this “chronic” cost issue does not affect SMEs alone. “The top management of some large MNCs here … have expressed their serious concerns about the unrelenting increases of the cost of doing business coupled with the unavailability of workers,” he said.
Iskandar’s industrial parks are a “huge threat”, he said. If Singapore’s SMEs are forced to move to Johor, MNCs may follow their SME suppliers and subcontractors. “The exodus may be larger than we imagine … We risk hollowing out our economy in the future, and I would like to sound an alarm that we are close to the tipping point.”…
Though he acknowledged that PIC and PIC+ would help with topline revenues growth, Mr Singh said: “We are just trying to do too many things too fast, and this is hurting many companies.”
Both he and nominated MP R Dhinakaran, who is also managing director of Jay Gee Group, pointed to rising industrial and commercial rents as a key culprit of the high costs of doing business in Singapore.
Citing Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee’s comment at BT’s Budget Roundtable that rents rise as much as three-fold when leases are renewed, Mr Dhinakaran said: “In this economic climate, rental increases of this magnitude will be fatal for a large number of SMEs.”
Both Mr Singh and Mr Dhinakaran also linked the high rental costs to the government’s land divestment policy. “JTC was a landlord for 18 per cent of industrial property some 10 years ago, but today manages only 3 per cent of the market. This is a huge shift, and the government lost the ability to influence rental prices resulting in developers and investors making the money,” said Mr Singh.
“We have to reverse this policy, even if it means the government having to buy back some of the Reits. In any case, the biggest Reit players are government-linked entities like Mapletree and CapitaLand,” he added.
Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang) felt that certain cost increases – the restoration of CPF contribution rates for older workers, higher progressive wages for low-income earners and cost hikes due to tighter low-skilled foreign manpower policies – are justified, with “strong rationale”.
But she also said that business rents need “the touch of the State”, and asked the government to consider “cooling measures, especially for business rents”.
BT 5 March
Given that Ascendas (a GLC) is the biggest player in the industrial land arena: why do you think when the govt says this?
The government will intervene if it sees evidence of collusion or the abuse of market dominance by any landlord – including real estate investment trusts (Reits), said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck … in Parliament … calls for help with climbing business costs (and in particular, the affordability of business space) have grown louder both in and outside of Parliament in recent months.
Reits – some of which were formed after JTC and HDB divested space to private owners – have been blamed for shorter lease renewals and sharper spikes in rentals.
“We know that it has come up as an issue, many of you have raised it. We will monitor it,” said Mr Teo.
At the same time, he noted that “Reits are not necessarily the leading players in the rental space market, because they currently only own about 13 per cent and 16 per cent of retail and industrial rental spaces respectively. Like any other landlord, they have to compete in the rental market to attract tenants and cannot charge excessive rents”.
Mr Teo also said that rents for space are likely to moderate in the medium term, as the government has released a “significant amount of land”.
Over the next three years, about 145,000 square metres of new shop space will be completed each year. Over the same period, an average of 500,000 square metres of multiple-user factory space will come on-stream each year.
For the former, that represents more than double the average annual demand for such space in the last three years; for the latter, it is just under double.
(BT 7 March)
Silicon Valley S’pore style?
Entrepreneurship will also receive a boost, since by the end of this year, JTC will open two more blocks to incubate start-ups, as part of a cluster called JTC LaunchPad@one-north.
“It’s our answer to Silicon Valley,” said Mr Teo.