What new hawker centres are doing

We thank Mr Foo Kwang Sai, Mr Gabriel Ong, and Mr Sean Lim for their letters (Sustainable solution needed to manage costs for hawkers; Subsidies for hawkers only a short-term solution; and Why does onus fall on NEA to provide subsidies? respectively; all published on Nov 21) as well as Mr Phua Tiang Soon for his letter (More detailed cost comparison of new and old hawker centre models needed; Nov 22).

Some clarification was sought about the grant to hawkers at the seven new hawker centres.

The grant for the centralised dishwashing service is transitional to give these hawkers time to establish themselves and build up a clientele.

Business generally improves with time as patrons get to know the hawkers' food offerings and as operators work with stallholders to improve footfall.

The transitional nature of this grant is not unlike that provided to hawkers of three hawker centres under the National Environment Agency's Productive Hawker Centres programme to help hawkers switch from manual to centralised dishwashing.

The cost of building each new hawker centre is about $15 million. This, together with the upgrading and redevelopment costs of hawker centres, is absorbed by the Government.

Why is dishwashing not subsidised at foodcourts?

Foodcourts are privately owned, and the Government does not interfere in the market mechanism that should be allowed to work there.

As for the new hawker centres, the socially conscious operators are to plough back at least half of any operating surplus to benefit the centres. These are generally in the form of a free shuttle bus service, free lunch-time parking, discount vouchers or other promotions that either target those in need or bring in footfall.

Social benefits can be more targeted this way, as every hawker centre performs differently and has its own unique set of challenges.

Another thing that the new hawker centres are doing is seeking to address the challenges of an ageing workforce and manpower constraints. These include the many new hawkers' training programmes run by the operators and productivity initiatives, such as automated tray return systems integrated with a dishwashing service. NEA will continue to do more in this area.

Ivy Ong (Ms)

Director, Hawker Centres Division

National Environment Agency

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'What new hawker centres are doing'. Print Edition | Subscribe