Strong discipline urged to get value from enterprise, innovation investments

A committee of MPs tasked with examining government spending has said the Government should exercise strong discipline in order to extract value from research, innovation and enterprise (RIE) investments.

In its report released yesterday, the Estimates Committee examined the $19 billion set aside under RIE 2020, a five-year plan to establish Singapore as a global node of technology, innovation and enterprise.

It noted that 50 of the large local companies here contributed to only about 15 per cent of business expenditure on R&D (Berd) in Singapore in 2017. In the Netherlands, the top 30 Dutch companies contributed 48 per cent of Berd in the same year.

This suggests that leading companies here are not adopting research and development as aggressively as their foreign counterparts, said the committee.

It called on the Government to better understand what it takes for “national unicorns” – private start-ups valued above US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) – to emerge and become globally competitive.

It acknowledged the Finance Ministry’s explanation that cross-country comparisons on Berd were not always useful due to their different industry mix and economic contexts. But more could be done to push for the uptake of technology and R&D by local companies, it said.

It observed that 1,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) had benefited from the Centres of Innovation (COIs) launched in 2006 to help SMEs develop and test technology products. Over a third of these companies engaged the COIs more than once.

But uptake of this programme has been limited, the committee said, reflecting the observations made by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

The committee urged the Government to consider SBF’s proposals, such as increasing its outreach activities to engage SMEs to tap the COIs, and reducing the level of bureaucracy among government agencies so as to unlock value for companies here.

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