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NEA to launch new scheme to help retiring veteran hawkers pass on skills, stalls to successors

NEA to launch new scheme to help retiring veteran hawkers pass on skills, stalls to successors

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, speaks to a hawker at Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre on Nov 24, 2020.

SINGAPORE: A new scheme to help veteran hawkers pass on their businesses to aspiring hawkers is in the works.

Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said on Tuesday (Nov 24) that a Hawker Succession Scheme (HSS) will be rolled out early next year – with more details to be announced next month.

Under the scheme, veteran stallholders who would like to retire but are unable to find suitable successors will get help to be paired with aspiring hawkers whom they can pass their skills to.

When the veteran hawkers retire, they can transfer the stalls to their successors. NEA said it will relax its rules so that eligible non-subsidised veteran stallholders can assign their stalls to successors who are not family members or relatives.

This is currently allowed only for subsidised stallholders, who are the original stallholders who were relocated from the streets in the early 1970s or allocated stalls under the Government's hardship scheme.​​​​​​​

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that the scheme will benefit those with at least 15 years of experience operating hawker businesses. There are currently about 900 of such cooked food stallholders.

“The veteran hawkers who will join the HSS are likely to be a small subset of this group. More details will be announced when ready,” NEA said.

The median age of hawkers is 59 years old, the agency said.

READ: Singapore hawker culture a step closer to being on UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list

Commentary: Hawker food isn't what it used to be. And it’s partially our fault

The scheme hopes to address a key challenge of sustaining hawker culture – passing on the culinary and business skills from one generation to the next, said Dr Khor during a visit to Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre on Tuesday.

An independent selection panel will advise NEA on pairing the applicants to the retiring veteran hawkers, Dr Khor said.

“This is really an alternative pathway that the aspiring hawkers can take if they wish to continue the businesses of the retiring stallholders, instead of starting from scratch.” 

A chwee kueh stall at Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre on Nov 24, 2020.

Dr Khor said that this was just one of the challenges facing hawkers that a workgroup has identified. The Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade has submitted a list of recommendations to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment for consideration.

The workgroup of 19 members is co-chaired by Chinatown Complex Hawkers' Association chairman Lim Gek Meng and Timbre Group managing director Edward Chia, who is also a Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.  

READ: Does hawker culture have a future in Singapore? Yes, but perhaps not as we know it

Other challenges facing the hawker trade that were identified by the workgroup include the poor public perception of the trade as a profession, difficulties faced by new entrants in sustaining their businesses and limited support for productivity equipment for hawker stalls.

"The National Environment Agency has wasted no time to implement some of the ideas that they have put forth in the report, for instance launching the Hawker Development Programme earlier this year, as well as enhancing the Hawker Productivity Grant," Dr Khor said. 

NEA will review the report and look at implementing other ideas suggested "in due course", Dr Khor added.

Mr Chia said that more than half of the workgroup members were hawkers, which helped them understand the "pain points" as well as the opportunities for the trade.

On the Hawker Succession Scheme, he said: " As Singaporeans, we all love good food and it will be such a waste if some of these recipes or this food disappears from our hawker scene ... so the programme is targeted at those who want to hand over their recipes but can't find successors."

A row of roasted chicken is displayed at a chicken rice stall in Singapore. (AFP/Roslan Rahman)

It complements existing programmes to encourage new entrants into the hawker trade, such as the Incubation Stall Programme and Hawkers’ Development Programme, NEA said. These programmes offer a variety of assistance and support schemes, such as subsidised training fees, paid apprenticeships and rental subsidies to new aspiring hawkers.

The initial results have been "promising", said NEA, adding that the median age of new entrants is at 46 years old.

Other recommendations by the workgroup include using various platforms and online resources to help hawkers network and share their knowledge, reviewing the manpower policy for hawker assistants and encouraging hawkers to use automation.

One initiative that went ahead last year is the Hawkers’ Seminar, a forum for hawkers to exchange ideas and facilitate sharing of best practices among the community.

The Hawkers’ Productivity Grant has also been extended to tools beyond kitchen automation to equipment, such as queue management systems. The funding period of the grant has been extended to Mar 31, 2023. To date, more than S$1.7 million has been disbursed to 593 market and cooked food stallholders, said NEA.

The report by the Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade can be found on NEA's website.

Source: CNA/hm

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