Tag Archive: SME


“It is a daunting challenge for SME businesses to keep pace with regular legislative updates. However, automated payroll software ensures that the essential updates are automatically implemented and that payslip calculations are correct, meeting the latest legislative requirements,” adds Kok.

To help overcome this challenge, Kok says Sage Pastel Payroll & HR interprets legislative changes for start-up and small businesses and ensures that they remain compliant via payroll and HR software. RSS feeds provide information on and notification of legislative and tax changes as well delivering new system functionality releases that ensure companies always process their payrolls on the latest software version.

SMEs generally agree that excessive Government bureaucracy and Government handling of the country’s current economic challenges still top the list of the least favourable aspects of doing business.

The SBI established that globally business confidence is improving but in South Africa managing cash flow is the biggest challenge for growing businesses with government not helping as there remain 4.7-million unemployed, a lack of basic skills and protection of employed people while SME businesses battle with wage and payroll legislation.

Recognising the pressures on SME business in the current difficult economy, payroll and HR software specialist Sage Pastel Payroll & HR has introduced a payroll and HR software solution that businesses can obtain on an affordable subscription monthly payment plan.

SME business contributes significantly to the economic growth in South Africa so there is a need to harness entrepreneurial businesses and ensure that they succeed.

According to the SBI survey, South Africa is generally downbeat about local economic prospects with a low score of 44.10%, which is on a par with the UK and US at 40.65% and 41.53% respectively.

Mobility provides start-up businesses with agility and seeing as the owners are invariably busy managing many aspects of their business, Kok says Sage Pastel My Payroll Online is a lucrative online payroll solution for start-up companies. Online payroll solutions can be obtained on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis whereby businesses only pay when they use the system.

“It is important to provide South African companies with more than just a box of software,” says Sumay Dippenaar, marketing manager at Sage Pastel Payroll & HR. Telephone and email support services can assist users with payroll, legislation and process enquiries. “Businesses should opt for a payroll provider that offers a national footprint of certified payroll software installers to ensure they benefit from professional installation of their payroll and HR software solutions.”

For the latest legislative news, connect with Sage Pastel Payroll & HR on Twitter (Payroll News), Facebook or LinkedIn.

South African businesses are confident about their own prospects, but they are worried about the country’s economy. That’s one of the key insights to emerge from the Sage Business Index for 2013, an annual survey of more than 11,500 SMEs around the world. More than 1200 South African SME’s also participated in this survey.

Business partners , media and Sage staff joined us on 18 October at our Woodmead offices to hear the local results of this annual survey. In addition to presentations from Sage’s Ivan Epstein and Rob Wilkie, Alec Hogg presented a very encouraging view of South Africa’s economic future. Pavlo Phitidis also led a fascinating panel discussion about the future of small business in South Africa.

Delegates heard that global scores this year were the highest since the Business Index began in February 2011, suggesting that business confidence is returning worldwide in the wake of the global economic crisis. But South African companies, on the whole, were concerned about conditions in their own country.

Some 23% of South African businesses say their biggest challenge is the preponderance of bureaucracy and business legislation. And 15% name the government’s handling of current economic challenges as an obstacle.

Close to half (48%) argue that skills development and education is one of the most important things the government could do to boost confidence, followed by bringing stability to exchange rates (47%) and reducing bureaucracy and business legislation (42%).

For more findings from the Sage Business Index look out for future posts or visit businessindex.sage.com

Philip Meyer

Philip Meyer

Connected Services enables SME companies to extend their desktop payroll with an online solution that eases the growing burden of HR managers and payroll administrators.

Connected Services includes a web-based self-service tool that enables employees to manage and maintain their own information online, thereby carrying some of the overall HR administration responsibility. They are able to make online applications for leave, loans, bursaries, travel claims, view their payslips and update personal information no matter where they are so long as they have an internet connection.

The adoption rate of online business software for new entrants into the market is increasing, posing the question of how to bridge the gap between the growing trend towards online software adoption and the traditional desktop application users in the same market segments.

The advantages and conveniences of connected services assist with expediting the many benefits of dual-deployment business software models such as client-side hosted applications with significant connected services capabilities and functionality, together with a seamless upgrade path to ultimately complete cloud-based models facilitated by vendors.

Connected Services has workflow capabilities based on the organisation chart or specific workflow orders per online form. Once an employee applies for leave online and it is management approved, the payroll & HR systems are automatically updated. The software also provides for leave scheduling, particularly practical over traditional December holidays when “skeleton staff” is required. The programme helps to manage minimum staff levels by providing system warnings.

When applying a connected services solution such as Self Service, companies should consider a hosted solution.  This guarantees quick deployment at low implementation cost, meaning companies do not have to invest in additional infrastructure to host the online application. All a company needs is an internet connection and a computer.

Frictionless (automated) payroll legislative updates
Frictionless updates are another example of connected services. This functionality enables traditional desktop applications to seamlessly update over the internet with minimal intervention from the end-user of the software.

Users no longer need to visit a website to download and install updates or CD versions manually as the connected services functionality does it all for them, directly from their payroll software. The days of CD-based updates and disruptive installation and implementation cycles are over.

RSS Feeds within payroll software
Another component of Connected Services allows HR managers and payroll administrators to receive RSS feeds to their desktops notifying them of legislative and tax changes as well as new system software releases so that the company is always on track and up to date.

The internet and, more specifically, cloud-based and online business applications constitute some of the most compelling opportunities for streamlining the way business is now conducted. It is reassuring that the optimisation of internet capabilities will almost certainly not amount to a one-size fits all model.

It is rather the incremental evolution of traditional desktop software, leveraging the internet where it is appropriate and business enhancing, that is playing an important role in the evolutionary shift to complete cloud-based business software provisioning, billing and deployment. This is providing a flexible and extensible migration path to the cloud, taking into account preferences of individual business requirements, as will pure cloud-only offerings.

Reduce payroll fraud and bank rejections with automated payroll software
Opt for a payroll vendor that can offerID number and bank account validations, as well as Employee Credit Checks and the delivery of secure salary EFT payments directly from the payroll software.

Companies need to take steps to avoid paying fake employees and can reduce payroll fraud and bank rejections, ensuring that they avoid stalling when processing salary payments. By combining monthly employee ID Number validation and verification with monthly bank account validation and verification together with secure payment services, companies  ensure that not only are they paying the correct employee through the correct bank account, but also that the payment is expedited in the most secure manner possible.

By validating and verifying the ID Numbers on the payroll, companies create complete peace of mind in the knowledge that not only has their employee provided a valid ID Number but also that the ID Number has been verified as belonging to the associated employee and is recorded on the Department of Home Affairs list of official ID Numbers. This eliminates both fake ID Numbers as well as ID Numbers not associated with the given employee.

With secure salary EFT payments, payment batches can be created automatically within a payroll system without creating the infamous “text files” which on some payroll systems needed to be stored on the hard drive of the Payroll Administrator’s computer and then forwarded or transferred to the authorised user of the banking software for transmission to the relevant bank. Avoiding editable payment  text files improves efficiency and eliminates yet another potential area for payroll fraud, ensuring a tamperproof payment is imported into the banking software.

By performing credit checks on employees, companies and Human Resource managers are provided with valuable information on existing and potential employees including judgments, defaults, notices / alerts, fraud listings / indicators, marital status spouse details and all residential address details. Reports can sourced from the three main credit bureaus in South Africa, namely TransUnion, Experian and XDS.

For more information on in-payroll software ID Number and Bank Account validation and verification services, contact Sage Pastel Payroll & HR and enquire about their Sage Pastel Connect Module.

For the latest legislative news, connect with Sage Pastel Payroll & HR. on Twitter (Payroll News), LinkedIn, Facebook.

Join the Cloud

Charles Pittaway

Charles Pittaway

By Monique Verduyn

Mention moving to the cloud and someone is bound to ask, “How do we do that?” The answer is that it’s really simple. All you need is connectivity, and all you have to do is replace your existing system with a business-application cloud service.

This will mean that you have decided to end the life of your existing application and instead receive your payroll and HR software from a new provider. That provider will manage the migration of all your data to the cloud, and will manage the application’s security, availability, and performance, as well as address any problems and changes in the underlying software and hardware the application depends upon. It’s that easy.

Charles Pittaway, MD of Sage Netcash, says that the biggest benefit of moving to a reputable cloud service is that business owners get access to a safe online system with competitive transaction fees. “SMEs can exercise control over their money and only pay for services used. The get secure online access to debit order collections, salary and creditor payments, credit card gateway and a range of credit and risk management services from one account. Overheads are reduced as there are no hardware costs, no costs for additional resources, and no costs for managing several different accounts.”

High security

The integration of a variety of security services provides customers with a single secure payroll system, directly from the payroll software. Security services include identity number validation and verification services, bank account validation and verification services, credit checks and secure salary EFT payments.

Bank account validation and verification ensures that a valid bank account has been entered into the payroll system and that it is in the name of the employee specified on the payroll. This eliminates one of the most critical areas of payment fraud which occurs when an employee’s salary is paid into the fake or erroneous bank account of another individual. In addition, the solution validates employee banking details with major banks including Absa, African Bank, Capitec, First National Bank, Mercantile, Nedbank and Standard Bank.

“Businesses want simple, cost effective and efficient debit order, salary and creditor payments and credit and risk management services,” says Pittaway. “As a business owner your cash flow and your relationship with your customers and creditors are the two most important aspects of your business. Cloud solutions ensure that all transactions are processed securely, accurately and on time each and every time.”

Many cloud application service providers enable users to register for an account online. That means there are no lengthy approval times to open a merchant account and implementation of the service can be done in a matter of hours. With Sage Netcash, the service agreement has no fixed timeframe which allows you the flexibility to discontinue the services at any time.

The benefits

Moving your payroll to the cloud allows your business to reap the many benefits of software as a service (SaaS):

  1. Innovation. You always use the latest release of the software, so the business has continuous innovation in user experience, workflows and capabilities.
  2. Reduced costs. Cloud solutions can easily and quickly be deployed to solve immediate business needs.
  1. Risk Mitigation. SaaS providers typically excel in security measures, including access controls, backup and recovery, and other potential vulnerability points.
  2. Control.  With SaaS, the business gets full control over process timing (data entry, audits, check runs, quality checks, adjustments), which is not guaranteed when the payroll is managed in-house or outsourced. You also get anytime access to data, analytics and reporting, and the assurance that the software always includes the most recent changes in legislation.
  3. Scalability. Cloud-based payroll solutions make it easy for businesses of any size to dynamically scale operations as and when they need to.

The stats

  • Cloud-based solutions are implemented on average 82% faster than on-premises solutions.
  • They require only 22% of the resources in ongoing staff compared to on-premises shops, freeing up members of the payroll team to focus on more strategic initiatives.

(Source: CedarCrestone 2012-13 HR Systems Survey, 15th ed.)

Ansie Snyders, Head of the Department for Training and Seminars at Sage VIP

Ansie Snyders

Ansie Snyders

Sage VIP has announced the launch of an e-learning option to its already comprehensive package of training solutions. E-learning is an online solution that enables a user to complete the outcomes of a specific learning program in their own time and pace.

It made business sense to develop an online training solution which is innovative and aligned with world-class technology. According to a 2012 Internet Access in South Africa study, conducted by World Wide Worx, the South African Internet user base had grown from 6,8-million in 2010 to 8,5-million at the end of 2011. World Wide Worx also forecasted in the same study that the strong growth would continue during 2012, and the Internet user base would pass the 10-million mark by the end of that year. Further to this point, the way in which we interact with technology every day is changing and it influences all aspects of our lives, including the way we learn.

E-learning is a cost-effective solution, saving on class fees and travel costs. However, it still requires a commitment from the learner in terms of time and actual completion of the course. The online assessment is an added benefit to Sage VIP’s e-learning solution and at completion of the course; students will receive a certificate of competence.

Furthermore, because this is online training you will need access to a computer with internet connectivity. Once you have registered for the e-learning workshop, a login name and password provided by Sage VIP, will allow you access to the specific workshop.  To be able to complete the course, you will also need Adobe v4.0.1.

Although the training is done online, it will still be practical, interactive and use real-life examples. Sage VIP’s e-learning tools will include online reading material and limited use of video, basically guiding a learner through the relevant screens of the payroll module. There will also be interesting exercises to test the understanding of specific topics and the learner will receive supporting documents for reference purposes.

In conclusion, Sage VIP’s e-learning will make the subject matter come alive in a way that textbooks and the classroom cannot.

Saul Symanowitz (Divisional Manager: Sage Pastel BEE123) , Hon. Rob Davies (Minister: Department of Trade and Industry), Thulani Fakude (Business Development Executive: Sage Pastel BEE123)

Saul Symanowitz (Divisional Manager: Sage Pastel BEE123) , Hon. Rob Davies (Minister: Department of Trade and Industry), Thulani Fakude (Business Development Executive: Sage Pastel BEE123)

Sage Pastel, has donated R7.5 million of software, training and other support interventions to the newly formed Black Management Forum (BMF) SMME Programme.

Launched this week by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, the BMF is extending its support for the development and empowerment of black businesses in the SME sector.

“With a 70% first-year failure rate amongst local start-ups, small business owners need as much support as possible,” said Saul Symanowitz, head of Sage Pastel’s BEE123 division. “Foundational business systems and basic business knowledge are not always part of an entrepreneur’s skill set and the Sage Pastel business toolkit will go a long way to providing that support.”

Sage Pastel will contribute to the BMF SMME Programme by donating 500 toolkits to participating small businesses.  This business support system, which is dubbed the BMF SMME Business Bundle, covers the key areas of accounting, legal, human resources, BEE and marketing. The retail price of the toolkit would be prohibitive for most small businesses.

Sage Pastel has been the leading developer of business and accounting software for small, medium and growing businesses for over 23 years and acknowledges the importance of this sector in building the local economy.  “This donation is part of our on going support for small businesses in South Africa. SMEs play a vital role in economic growth and employment creation. It is essential to ensure that businesses operating in this sector are viable and sustainable in the long term.” comments Symanowitz.

Minister Davies stated that his department supports the development of strong and productive enterprises, endorsing President Jacob Zuma’s position of the need to develop black industrialists. He also indicated the importance of encouraging symbiotic relations between small and big business, and using BEE codes to ensure small business development and the growth and expansion of a healthy SMME sector.

By Steven Cohen, managing director, Sage Pastel Accounting

Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen

To succeed in business, exceptional service is essential. Everyone says they do it but I question its true impact, particularly when I consider that everything is automated these days. In the world of electronic communications, everyone auto-signs their emails with a warm and fuzzy salutation, your birthday is recorded in a customer relationship management (CRM) system that triggers a congratulatory SMS on the appropriate date and it’s seldom that you get to talk to a real person at a call centre anymore. The result of the, so-called benefits of technology is a techno-void between a company and its customers.

The Extraordinary Customer Experience

Sage, the global parent of Sage Pastel Accounting has launched a new Extraordinary Customer Experience initiative which will benefit its 4 million clients globally. The programme’s key objective is to build real relationships with customers using an old-fashioned method; people.

Initially I was cynical about the advantages such a plan would bring to the business. Our local contact centre is manned by real people and it’s considered one of the best – it wins local and international awards all the time and is currently a regional finalist in three categories of the highly regarded Contact Centre World Awards run by ContactCentreWorld.com.

However, our new service initiative requires more than just people to offer extraordinary customer service; it’s their attitude and approach to the customer that is so crucial. In addition to the programme’s need for passion, accountability, collaboration and being enterprising when dealing with customers, I am drawn to its requirements for creating working conditions that encourage people to succeed!

It’s all about attitude

As a business leader, I’ve always said that it’s important to stimulate the thinking of those around you. This can only be applied if you understand that attitude and not just aptitude is essential when employing at any level in the organisation. I like to see the interview process as a gate that only lets exceptional people in – and it’s part of my management ethos to pay more for a good person. So, I think I am on the correct path to getting the customer service experience right but now the hard work really begins.

For the Extraordinary Customer Experience to become a reality we need to change the way we think about customer service. I want us to own every customer experience and not simply sell stuff to people because we have targets to meet. We need to build real relationships with all of our clients and recognise that a new client or a satisfied contact centre customer is not just another successful transaction. In addition it’s important to define what we are delivering to our customers in relation to what our customers think they are getting – a disconnect at this point is the difference between exceptional or deficient service.

In the 2013 Budget speech, Finance  Minister, Pravin Gordhan, emphasised that one of Government’s most pressing development challenges is to expand work opportunities for young people: “There has been extensive debate on how this should be done and the answer is that a wide range of measures are needed, including further education, training, public employment opportunities and support for job creation in the private sector.”

Learnerships help young people to obtain a formal qualification, while gaining relevant workplace experience. While there are many benefits to the prospective learners, there are also advantages to the employer implementing the learnership. Employers have the peace of mind that their employees are not away from the office for extended periods of time and while they are away, they are improving their relevant work based skills to be more productive and efficient at what they are employed to do.

In 2002, the Government introduced a Learnership Allowance Incentive, for employers to:

  • Encourage job creation by reducing the cost of hiring and training employees through learnerships
  • Promote skills development
  • Encourage human capacity development

However, there is a very specific legislation that guides the process and it poses certain challenges. Tax Talk spoke to Rob Cooper, tax expert and Director of Legislation Updates and Proposed legislation at Sage VIP, part of the Sage Group plc, about some of the recent changes made to the Learnership Allowance Incentive.

Cooper says: “To encourage employers to participate in learnerships, an allowance in the form of a deduction from the company’s taxable income has been available for many years. To qualify for the learnership allowance, employers must register the learnership with SETA. There is a R30 000 allowance at the start of the learnership, and a further R30 000 upon the successful completion. The value of the actual incentive has always been influenced by the when the learner is registered and the learner’s failure to complete. However, with new legislation introduced in January, the scenario will change.”

Cooper explains: “In the past, the allowance (deduction) was only allowed during the year in which the learnership agreement was officially registered with SETA.  For a variety of reasons, registration often takes a couple of months and this resulted in reduced value.”

“In future, employers will no longer have to register learnerships from the moment of the inception. A learnership will be deemed to have been registered for the duration of the agreement that falls within the employer’s year of assessment. However, it is necessary that the learnership is registered within 12 months after the year of assessment.”

“The second issue relates to failure to complete. In the past, the allowance was not granted if the learner previously failed to complete a prior registered learnership of similar nature to the new learnership.  Typically, the employer was not aware of prior learnerships (i.e. the information was not easily accessible or the quality of the information was not reliable, as it is dependent on feedback from other employers). Attempts to obtain this information also delayed the registration process.”

“In future, employers will no longer have to find out details of the individuals’ learnerships entered into with other employers.  Learnership allowances will only be refused if the learner failed the same type of learnership with the same employer (or associated institution).”

”Implementing a learnership programme within your company will definitely contribute to job creation, especially for young people. However, it is important to keep track of all the legislative changes.  Make sure that your company is operating within the parameters of the basic conditions of employment and its legal requirements. It is crucial to being a responsible citizen,” concludes Cooper.

For more information, employers are invited to attend the Sage VIP, Payroll and Tax Seminar. You can book your seat at:  www.vippayroll.co.za.

Rob Cooper is a tax expert and Director of Legislation Updates and Proposed legislation at Sage VIP, part of the Sage Group plc. 

Rob Cooper

Rob Cooper

“Changes proposed to South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), Labour Relations Act (LRA) and Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEAB) will have a significant impact on how employers conduct their business in 2013,” says Cooper.

“In the draft Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEAB), specific attention should be paid to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value, which can result in a new form of unfair discrimination.”

Cooper explains: “In cases where employment conditions, including remuneration, are applied differently to employees who do the same or similar work, then the employer must be able to show that the differences are based on fair criteria such as experience, skills, responsibility and qualifications. If the employer cannot do this, the differentiation would constitute unfair discrimination.”

“In practice it would mean that if a company employed factory workers on a permanent basis and at times of high demand took on additional workers from a labour broker and they worked side by side doing the same job, then both permanent and labour broker-supplied workers must be paid at the same rate,” says Cooper.

“Because the employer must pay the labour broker his fee on top of the wages for the workers, the result will be that brokered labour will cost more than permanent labour. This is logical and the premium that the employer must pay for flexibility.”

“Importantly, the intention is to align the Employment Equity Act with other general labour laws that need to be applied in cases where an individual supplied to a client by a labour broker is seen as an employee of that client.  One can only assume at this early stage that these employees, supplied by the labour broker, will have to be included in the client’s equity plan as well as in the labour broker’s equity plan.”

“The draft Employment Equity Act further changes the way in which companies implement affirmative action. According to Cooper, the groups of people who benefit from the affirmative action provisions will be limited to those who were South African citizens before democracy (April 1994) or to those who were prevented by the policies of apartheid from becoming citizens before 1994, and their descendants. This means that the employment of foreign nationals or those who became citizens after the democratic era (April 1994), will not assist employers to meet their affirmative action targets.”

Employment Services Bill

According to Cooper, the Employment Services Bill is another very important piece of legislation for employers to be aware of as it moves towards finalisation.

“The overall intention of this brand new piece of legislation is to empower the Department of Labour to provide a comprehensive range of employment services (free of charge) to members of the public in an attempt to achieve the Government’s objectives of: more jobs, decent work and sustainable livelihoods.  Any initiative that reduces unemployment is to be welcomed,” says Cooper.

The Government is aiming at making employment services open and accessible to all. This includes the following:

  1. Registering work vacancies and seekers, matching resulting opportunities, and facilitating the placement of seekers with employers or other work opportunities.
  2. Provision of advisory services for training, social security benefits, dealing with vulnerability, vocational and career counselling, assessment of work seekers to determine suitability, and improving work-related life skills.

UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) legislation

Changes to the UIF legislation have been pending for quite some time and will hopefully move through Parliament towards the end of this year.  Broadly, the proposed changes envisage increasing the value of the UIF benefit, as well as extending the grace period during which benefits can be claimed, from 6 to 18 months,” says Cooper.

He says there is also an intention to remove certain exclusions of which there are no details but hopes that this will include the exclusion of commission from the remuneration on which the contribution is calculated, which results in commission being excluded from the value of the contribution and the benefit.  Unemployed people, who were earning a low basic salary plus commission, are negatively affected by a benefit that is in line with only their basic salary.

Cooper is encouraging employers to attend Sage VIP’s Payroll and Tax Seminar in March and April 2013. “The seminar is regarded by many as a definitive guide to the changes in payroll and tax legislation and we endeavour to present it in a practical and interactive manner that does not focus on the legal aspects alone. The presentation will also aim at communicating future trends that will impact payroll and HR,” said Cooper.

Budget a balancing act

By Rob Wilkie, CFO Sage South Africa

Rob Wilkie

Rob Wilkie

Whilst last year’s budget was all about infrastructure expansion investment, this year the emphasis is in keeping the budget deficit in check.

Mr Gordhan announced in his 2013 budget speech that tax collections would be R16.9 billion less than the estimate made in the 2012 budget. This was largely as a result of weaker economic growth, labour unrest and lower commodity prices. Economic growth for 2012 is expected to be sluggish at 2.7% with mining strikes and stoppages costing the economy approximately R15.3 billion.

As a consequence, the budget deficit increased to 5.2% of GDP. In other words, government spending exceeded tax revenue collected by R185 billion. In business terms, government made an operating loss in 2012.

In order to reduce the deficit (or rate of cash burn) Gordhan said that he would not increase taxes or impose drastic austerity measures, but would instead reduce the rate at which public spend was escalating. He said he would do this by utilising government’s contingency reserve (R23.5 billion); reprioritising expenditure to strategically important initiatives (R52 billion); and reducing financial mismanagement and corrupt expenditure (6% of GDP).  If successful, the growth in government spending would be reduced to 2.3% in real terms (7.8% including the effects of inflation) and the budget deficit brought back to 3.1% over 3 years. Additional borrowings of R497 billion would be required to fund the deficit, increasing government debt to R1,7 trillion or 40% of GDP. Gordhan said that he was comfortable with this level of debt and SA’s ability to meet its debt service commitments.

If government were a business the budget would read as follows:

  • Business SA has made a loss equivalent to 5.2% of its turnover.
  • It does not want to increase its prices as existing customers may stop buying and new customer acquisitions decline.
  • To return to profitability (or reduce its loss) Business SA therefore has to reduce its cost base or at least slow its cost growth.
  • It will do this by a combination of resource reallocation to its priority initiatives and reduction of inefficiencies and wasteful expenditure.
  • Until such time as it is able to return to profitability Business SA will utilise its cash resources and credit lines to fund its losses.

It is a balancing act.  Do you cut deep; stop the cash burn but risk sustainability and preparedness for the next cyclical upturn? Or do you rather focus on efficiency gains and investment priorities, live with losses and more debt, but enhance sustainability and competitive edge?

Government has chosen the later, both for socio economic and structural reasons, but also because it has the capacity to borrow in order to sustain deficits. I believe they have got the balance right in this budget. It is now up to government to show the political will and commitment necessary to implement it.