Thursday, March 9, 2017

$90m fund lined up to boost hawker trade

Mar 9 2017
Straits Times

Money to support suggestions by Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee

Samantha Boh

A $90 million kitty will be set up to breathe new life into the hawker sector, which is dogged by an ageing workforce and a shortage of fresh blood.

The money will help pay for initiatives such as centralised dishwashing services and cashless payment systems, which will be rolled out at existing hawker centres.

A productivity grant will also be introduced in the third quarter of this year to spur hawkers to adopt kitchen automation equipment by co-funding such purchases.

These are some ways the $90 million fund will be used to support recommendations put forth by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee last month.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday said her ministry has accepted the suggestions of the committee, which she chaired.

For a start, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will alter the infrastructure of 25 existing hawker centres it manages over the next few years, to facilitate the adoption of initiatives like cashless payment systems that benefit all stall-owners.

[Right! Because one of the main complaints by customers eating at hawker centres is the hassle of having to use cash to pay for their purchases.]

It will co-fund up to 70 per cent of the operating costs of such productivity measures for a period of time to encourage hawkers to take them up, Dr Khor told the House.

A Hawkers' Productivity Grant will allow each stall-owner to claim 80 per cent of the cost of kitchen automation equipment on a reimbursement basis, capped at $5,000 within three years.

"This will help lower the initial costs of adoption of productivity measures that will help realise manpower and cost savings in the longer term," said Dr Khor.

Separately, the Government will launch a three-year hawker centre adoption programme later this year. It will allow organisations to apply for a grant of up to $2,000 to organise an event or activity at a hawker centre, capped at $10,000 a year.

[The name "hawker centre adoption programme" explains nothing. Will need to see what it means, how it works, and will it make a difference. Is it going to be like this ?]

The NEA will also work with cleaning contractors to promote tray returns and dispel the misconception that it will make cleaners jobless. It will also enhance tray-return facilities to make them more prominent and accessible.

She told the House that the initiatives are aimed at ensuring that the hawker trade remains sustainable and viable.

In line with that goal, "incubation" stalls will be made available in the second half of this year to aspiring hawkers, who will get to try their hand at the trade for six months and decide if they are cut out for the trade without heavy investments, she said.

Other initiatives to be rolled out include a one-stop information and service centre that will provide information essential for hawkers, such as on training courses and funding, as well as a new training course on hawker business management. A series of classes starting in May will allow members of the public to learn how to cook from veteran hawkers.

"(The initiatives) should help to support both existing and aspiring hawkers. This, in turn, will allow Singaporeans to continue enjoying affordable food in a clean and hygienic environment," she said.

[Note that in very first paragraph, the problem was properly identified: 
"...ageing workforce and a shortage of fresh blood."

Then, a whole slew of initiatives and plans. Look through all the plans and schemes. Some will help the older hawkers - less washing up, some automation, etc. How many will attract fresh blood into the sector? How many times have you heard young people say, "you know, I really want to be a hawker, but when I think about washing dishes, and collecting money, I just feel so discouraged!"

And that is why this is not going to turn the dying hawker trade around. But I could be wrong. I would like to be pleasantly surprised. ]

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