Fund to boost innovation in construction sector

Workers at the construction site near the Singapore Post Centre at Eunos.
Workers at the construction site near the Singapore Post Centre at Eunos.PHOTO: ST FILE

More help is on the way for the construction sector, which has been struggling amid a slow property market and economic uncertainty.

A $150 million Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund will be set up to allow government agencies to procure "innovative and productive" building solutions to help develop capabilities in the sector.

"The fund will allow these solutions to enter and gain traction in the market," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday, adding that these solutions may have higher costs as they "may be nascent and lack scale".

The Singapore Contractors Association (Scal) hailed the move.

"From the contractors' point of view, the market is quite suppressed... Many firms are more worried about survival than investing in new technology. This initiative, with the Government taking the lead, will help," Scal president Kenneth Loo told The Straits Times.

Consultancy PwC Singapore said tech trends such as the Internet of Things could be used to collect data - including identifying equipment needing repair - and then using it to improve construction processes.

"Companies are also using virtual reality or augmented reality technology to detect errors (and) drone-generated surveys to preview job-site conditions," noted Mr Tan Tay Lek, corporate tax partner at PwC Singapore.

Mr Heng said $2.4 billion will be set aside over the next four years to implement strategies crafted by the Committee on the Future Economy. This includes a $500 million top-up to the National Research Fund to support innovation, and a further $1 billion for the National Productivity Fund to drive industry transformation.

The funding is on top of the $4.5 billion put aside last year for the Industry Transformation Programme to help firms build up capabilities and grow through innovation.

Mr Heng also touched on the need for forward-looking regulations to facilitate innovation. "Our regulatory agencies must balance managing risk and creating the space to test innovations," he noted, citing examples of such efforts.

These include a recent move by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to simplify rules for venture capital funds that will help to enhance financing for start-ups.

Mr Heng said "regulatory sandboxes" - which involve setting boundaries within which some rules can be suspended - will encourage greater experimentation.

 

Apart from MAS' regulatory sandbox for financial technology, the Land Transport Authority also set out specific zones where self-driving vehicles can be tested on roads.

Also, regulators can make their risk assessments for new products and services swifter. The Health Sciences Authority is doing this via an upcoming priority review scheme to evaluate new medical devices.

Mr Heng noted: "This will accelerate the commercialisation process and make Singapore a preferred location to launch these devices."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Fund to boost innovation in construction sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe