Govt delegation deepens Singapore-UK bilateral relations on visit to London

Britain's Government Digital Service director Kevin Cunnington and GovTech chief executive Kok Ping Soon sign a memorandum of understanding to deepen collaboration and exchange in the development of Digital Government Services. Witnessing the signing
Britain's Government Digital Service director Kevin Cunnington and GovTech chief executive Kok Ping Soon sign a memorandum of understanding to deepen collaboration and exchange in the development of Digital Government Services. Witnessing the signing are Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.PHOTO: GOVTECH SINGAPORE

LONDON - Deepening bilateral relations and forging new platforms of cooperation were some of the key elements of the Singapore government delegation's trip to London this week.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "Britain is going through some uncertainties but notwithstanding, our agencies got together prior to forge a series of cooperation agreements in various areas, from fintech to innovation to data.

"So whatever it is, whatever happens to Britain, we are forging ahead with our cooperation for a new era."

Another member of the Singapore delegation, Dr Tan Wu Meng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Ministry of Trade and Industry, added: "It was really about continuing to maintain and deepen the bilateral account. And that was also a theme in how our delegation was constituted - Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a senior member of the team, taking with him members of the 4G team."

Mr Tharman's five-day working visit concluded on Thursday (June 13), while Mr Ong and Dr Tan visited London the same week. Their trip ended on Friday.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office on Friday said Mr Tharman's discussions with Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster David Lidington, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell "focused on ways to create new opportunities for cooperation under the Singapore-United Kingdom Partnership for the Future, including through the agreements signed during the visit".

Mr Tharman also had a useful exchange of views on domestic policy responses to the challenges faced by both countries, the statement added.

Earlier this week, he and Dr Tan met UK Parliamentarians, where topics discussed included bilateral relations, regional developments and higher education reforms.

Describing the meetings as "fruitful", Dr Tan said: "The key message is that the bilateral relationship is long-standing. It is deep. It is also forward-looking."

Mr Ong also met British Education Secretary Damian Hinds where they discussed issues such as skills. At this meeting, Mr Ong was also told that Britain had adopted Singapore's primary and secondary mathematics syllabus.

 
 

He also visited the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a comprehensive school that practises subject-based banding, a practice that Singapore plans to implement; and Cambridge Assessment, which Singapore is working with on a new consolidated secondary school certificate.

On Thursday night, Mr Ong and Dr Tan held a dialogue with Singaporeans based in Britain at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. About 250 people attended the two-hour session.

Peppered with laughs and candid responses, issues raised at the session included inequality, mental wellness and workplace competitiveness.

Education also proved to be a hot topic: Questions posed on this included those on moving back to Singapore with school-going children and student-teacher ratios in local schools.

Speaking to The Straits Times after the event, Mr Ong said with a laugh: "When it comes to education, somehow the questions are fast and furious."

The diverse crowd ranged from students and working professionals, to parents with young children, as well as those from the Merdeka and Pioneer generations.

Dr Tan noted that the dialogue with fellow Singaporeans was of high importance.

"We are a small country. Every Singaporean (living) overseas is, in a way, an ambassador for us," he said.

"We want to continue to reach out because the message is: Wherever you are in the world, you're still Singaporean, you're still part of our family."