SINGAPORE - The Government will be setting aside $90 million to help breathe life into a hawker sector dogged by an ageing workforce and a shortage of new blood.
Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor, said during the debate on her ministry's budget on Wednesday (March 8) that the ministry has accepted the recommendations put forth by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee last month, and the funds will go towards driving some of its suggestions.
As a start, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will make alterations to the infrastructure of 25 existing hawker centres it manages over the next few years to facilitate the adoption of centre-level initiatives, such as centralised dishwashing services and cashless payment systems.
It will co-fund up to 70 per cent of the operating costs of such initiatives for a period of time in order to encourage hawkers to take them up, said Dr Khor.
To spur on the adoption of automation by hawkers, a Hawkers' Productivity Grant will be introduced in the third quarter of this year to co-fund the purchase of kitchen automation equipment. Each stall owner will be able to claim 80 per cent of the cost of the equipment on a reimbursement basis, up to a total of $5,000 within three years.
Separately, a three-year hawker centre adoption programme will be launched in the second half of this year where an organisation can apply for a grant of up to $2,000 to organise an event or activity at a hawker centre, up to a cap of $10,000 a year.
Dr Khor, who was also the committee's chairman, added that the NEA will work with cleaning contractors to promote tray-return to dispel the misconception that it will make cleaners jobless, as well as enhance tray-return facilities to make them more prominent and accessible.
"These initiatives that we are rolling out are part of our efforts to ensure the sustainability and viability of the hawker trade," she said.
"They 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."
In line with that goal, more than 10 "incubation" stalls will also 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. This will allow them to decide if they are cut out for the trade without heavy investments, said Dr Khor.
Other initiatives that will be implemented by the Government include a one-stop information and service centre that will provide information essential for hawkers, such as on training courses and funding, and the introduction of a new training course on hawker business management.