Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Heartlands Festival on 28 November 2021.
President Yeo Hiang Meng
President, Federation of Merchants Association Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen, including those who are joining us virtually,
I am very happy to be here with SMS Sim Ann, MOS Low Yen Ling, at the launch of the Heartlands Festival 2021. This is the first time that we are putting together such a Festival, through the joint effort of the FMAS and Enterprise Singapore. The timing cannot be better, as we head into the year-end festive season. Over the next 3 months, residents can look forward to a range of exciting activities that will showcase the vibrancy of our heartlands.
Our Heartlands - a special place
During this pandemic, many of us have come to rediscover the sights and sounds of our HDB towns. We have come to appreciate the convenience that our heartlands have to offer, including the many shops, stalls, and supermarkets where we can buy our sundries, b. And the hawker centres and coffee shops where food is just a stone’s throw away.
Most importantly, our heartlands are where the Kampung Spirit continues to live on. The amenities in our HDB towns provide more than just goods and services. They are also nodes for residents to catch up with old friends and make new ones. When residents visit these shops and the markets, there is often a comforting sense of familiarity with the stall-owners and shopkeepers. I have personally experienced this warmth when I visit the stalls in my constituency. Residents from different backgrounds and ethnic groups grow up and grow old together. Their children and grandchildren play together at the void decks or in the playgrounds, attend the same schools and go to the hawker centres together. As the Chinese saying goes,“ 远亲不如近邻”！Indeed, a close neighbour can sometimes be more of help than even a relative who is further away.
During this pandemic, the ‘gotong royong’ spirit in our heartlands came out strongly. For example, residents from Admiralty, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines set up spaces in their HDB blocks to provide free groceries, supplies and clothes to those in need. In Bedok, the community recently set up a community fridge, and many residents have generously contributed food items to those who need it. These gestures not only provided relief to many households, but also built stronger community bonds in our heartlands.
Keeping our Heartlands Vibrant
Going forward, we must continue to keep our heartlands vibrant. But the pandemic has also posed challenges for our heartland enterprises. With fewer residents out and about, the pandemic has also dampened footfall. Digitalisation picked up pace as consumers embraced e-commerce and online food delivery platforms. Spending is shifting online, away from brick-and-mortar shops.
I am glad that our heartland merchants and hawkers remained resilient, continued to serve and think of new ways to serve the community. The Government rolled out various support measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme, Rental Support Scheme, and COVID-19 Recovery Grant. Some landlords have also provided additional rental support on their own accord to help their tenants tide through this difficult period. Last year, we also provided CDC vouchers to lower income households, to help them with their daily expenses and to boost local businesses.
In this year’s Budget, I further announced that we will be providing $100 in CDC vouchers to all Singaporean households. This is to thank them for their sense of solidarity and to continue supporting our heartland businesses and hawkers. The Mayors discussed among themselves and decided that the vouchers should be given out digitally, as the scale of the support is much bigger than the previous tranches. The CDCs will be notifying households on the details soon. I hope this will bring some additional cheer to our heartland enterprises!
In the longer term, for our heartland enterprises to thrive, they will need to adapt and transform. I am encouraged that many have taken steps to do so. One striking change is the adoption of digital payment solutions. Just last year, only 40% of heartland enterprises and 20% of hawkers offered e-payments. Today, more than 80% of heartland businesses and more than 60% of hawkers already do so. More heartland businesses have also built an online presence – on social media and on platforms such as Carousell, Fave and Shopee. This has allowed them to expand their customer reach beyond their immediate locality. Take “Long Cha” coffee stall owner Mr Jimmy Ng. To cater to the evolving tastes of younger customers, he came up with his own menu of affordable bubble tea. On top of using e-Payment and online delivery services, he also has a Facebook page to communicate directly with his customers. Another good example is Ban Cheong Jewellers, an eighty-seven-year-old family business. It adopted 3D printing to increase production efficiency and introduce new customisable gold designs and products. What is most inspiring is that the owner, Mr Ching Kwang Meng, learnt how to use the 3D printing software in his 60s, and has in turn taught these skills to his employees! Digitalisation and business transformation is a continuous journey, and I encourage more of our merchants to explore new ways to grow their business. The Government will walk this journey with you.
Heartlands Festival 2021
Beyond the Government, I am glad to see that partners, such as FMAS, are working with local merchants’ and hawkers’ association to rejuvenate our heartlands. The Heartland Enterprise Centre, a subsidiary of FMAS, is providing business advisory services, and organising training and capability building programmes for heartland merchants. At the precinct level, merchants’ and hawkers’ associations have also been organising regular place-making activities to attract and engage residents.
This Heartlands Festival is another example of how the various stakeholders have come together to make our heartlands more vibrant. As part of the Festival, residents can look forward to online content and heartland tours to help them discover the hidden gems in our heartlands. Many will learn about shops and food stalls that they never knew existed. To burn off the calories, residents can go on the Heartlights Xperience Trail. With curated walking and cycling trails through our heartlands, participants can also explore immersive lighting decorations put up along the way. Each trail will ultimately lead to an Instagram-worthy Heartlights Installation. In fact, I heard that one such installation is at Bedok Town Centre, and I intend to go check it out! I encourage all of our residents to take part in these exciting activities together with your families and friends.
Let me conclude. I hope over the next 3 months, we can all take the opportunity to take pride in and celebrate what our heartlands have to offer. In turn, I encourage our heartland enterprises to continue to transform and adapt, and make our heartlands even more vibrant than they are today. I am happy to declare the inaugural Heartlands Festival open.
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