Details in Singapore’s recently announced Budget 2020 are a direct reflection of how much the COVID-19 virus outbreak has affected those in Singapore. COVID-19 has dominated news cycles, disrupted day-to-day routines and had an economic impact on individuals and companies alike. 

More than S$5billion has been set aside to help businesses, professionals and Singaporean households in this year’s budget, aimed at softening that economic impact, along with supporting business growth, education and local employment.

Coronavirus recovery front and centre in the Budget

COVID-19 has increased costs for businesses, individuals and households. The government announced several short-term provisions to address this impact, including the S$1.6 billion Care and Support Package, which will give Singaporeans 21 years and older between S$100 and S$300, among other benefits to offset increased household costs. 

For businesses, tax rebates within the Stabilisation and Support Package of up to $15,000 per company will be available for the tax year of 2020. Additionally, the sectors that have been most directly affected by the COVID-19, which include tourism, aviation, retail, food services and point-to-point transport, will receive more direct financial help. 

Nilay Khandelwal, Michael Page’s Managing Director for Singapore, said that the budget’s subsidies in sectors impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus in Singapore has given the affected companies some breathing space: “It has created an atmosphere for these businesses that can help to ensure their survival. And it has been delivered with the view that the situation is currently stable.”

Much of the economic effects on The Lion City depended on the health of its critical partners, he said. “Singapore can’t expect to be spared an impact if China can’t return to normal soon,” he notes. “That has an impact, as does Hong Kong’s situation.” In this regard, the outlook is still beyond Singapore’s control.  

COVID-19's impact on hiring

Currently, despite the COVID-19 situation, hiring has not yet seen a significant direct impact. “We don’t have any major slowdown yet – though it’s still too early to say. Currently, the appetite for junior and mid-level jobs, particularly in technology, is strong.  If anything, the slowdown is on senior level jobs, where candidates or clients might have to fly in.”

The big difference in comparison to the 2003 SARS outbreak was the ability to do business remotely, noted Khandelwal. “We’ve really seen the advantage of technology: the ability to be flexible, and to interview candidates virtually.”

“Especially for support roles, the switch has been in some cases quite seamless – with some clients even appreciating the benefits of virtual meetings,” he notes. “To be honest, that’s truly unlike what I’d have expected would happen.” 

Aside from virus recovery, Singapore’s 2020 budget focused on several other initiatives focused on professionals and businesses in the upcoming year. 

Support for growth and transformation

To foster growth and transformation in the next three years, despite a slower economy, the budget has allocated S$8.3 billion for companies at all stages of growth to improve capabilities and secure funding for further development. This amount is distributed across several initiatives including the Startup SG Equity for tech start-ups, the SMEs Go Digital scheme for small businesses and the Enterprise Transform Package for the development and training of future leaders of enterprises within Singapore. 

Education as an investment in the future economy

Through various measures in this year’s budget, the government aims to double spending within education in the upcoming years, with a particular focus on early childhood education. Provisions will double spending to more than S$2 billion over the next two to three years. 

As in previous years, the government also recognises the importance of upskilling and preparing professionals for the workplace of the future. The SkillsFuture programme, which helps professionals learn new skills that are emerging from new technologies, will see big investments, and Singaporeans, aged 25 and above will receive more credits to take advantage of these programmes. 

Helping locals stay employed

This year’s budget also had a strong focus on ensuring local Singaporeans are hired and continue to be employed. The Stabilisation and Support Package is aimed at ensuring companies retain local workers through an offset of wages for a total of three months. Additionally, the Jobs Support Scheme increases efforts from the Government in supporting employers who retain local employees. 

2020 has already presented some big challenges for both professionals and companies in Singapore, but it’s clear with the Budget 2020 that the Government is dedicated to help offset some of the economic impact for the remainder of the year.