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Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the ACAPS Annual Chinese New Year Dinner

Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the ACAPS Annual Chinese New Year Dinner

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Honorary Advisor, Association of Catering Professionals Singapore (ACAPS) and Assistant Director-General, NTUC,

Mr Vincent Phang, President, ACAPS,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.     Good evening, and Happy New Year! 新年快乐!Thank you for inviting me to join your annual Chinese New Year celebrations.

2.      Food is very close to the hearts of all Singaporeans. A strong F&B industry allows us to enjoy good food and dining experiences in Singapore. It also contributes to the economy and creates good jobs for Singaporeans. Within the F&B industry, the catering subsector accounts for nearly 8% of total annual operating receipts and hires more than 12,000 employees.

3.     ACAPS has done well over the years, bringing catering businesses together to promote networking, to build stronger capabilities to plan ahead to see what are some of the trends and developments, and to collaborate and solve problems together. The Association has grown three-fold since its founding in 2011, and now has more than 160 members. Please keep up the good work.

Singapore’s response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

4.     The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation will impact our economy this year. I was asking the hotel staff and she said there were some cancellations for larger events but they told me one thing – that when people come to Singapore, they feel that Singapore is safe. I take some comfort in that. Even though we are faced with a difficult situation, what we have done so far, calmly and cohesively, is to send a message not just to our own people but to the rest of the world that Singapore, we can deal with this together, and we will keep our people safe, prevent community spread as far as possible and when this situation improves and the economy rebounds, there will be new opportunities for us to seize. We know there is an impact on our businesses and the Government is committed to walking this journey together with you. DPM will be announcing some measures come Budget on 18 February. Before that, in some areas, we have already announce some initial measures to help. Minister Chan Chun Sing mentioned some of these yesterday. We will waive off the license fees for hotels, tour guides, and travel agents. These are small ways that we help our businesses. We want to send a clear message that we are working on this together – the Government, the businesses and our workers, all working on it together to support one another. So when we overcome this, there will be new opportunities for us to benefit from.

    a.     We can also use this period to start thinking and planning ahead. During this period, what is it that we can do to better position ourselves when the recovery comes. Is it some of the measures that you have been thinking about and want to implement but do not have the time and bandwidth to do so or is it the training of your workers. We are going to see what we can do to support you and the measures will be shared by DPM soon.

Transforming businesses for continued growth

5.     Looking beyond the near-term challenges and concerns, ACAPS has been stepping up its efforts to help caterers transform their businesses.

    a.     One key area is how do we support the growth of the catering industry without a significant increase in the number of foreign workers. We know it is not sustainable to have foreign workers’ numbers grow more and more. This is something we have to balance. We have started on the journey to tackle this challenge, focusing on measures to improve productivity and attract more locals to join the industry.

    b.     ACAPS is the first trade association to pledge its support for the Service Industry Transformation Programme (SITP) by the Singapore Productivity Centre, under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme. The aim is to help businesses overcome manpower challenges and improve productivity, through service design, digitalisation, new business processes and new product and services for your customers.

    c.      In addition, ACAPS is planning to organise workshops and study trips, with support from Enterprise Singapore, for its members to learn more about industry best practices and innovative technologies from companies around the region. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel and start from scratch, we can learn from others and adapt the solutions to meet our needs.

6.     Raising productivity can help caterers overcome manpower constraints and lower operating costs. To grow and remain competitive, it is just as important for companies to strengthen their value proposition through new and improved offerings.

7.     To meet changing consumer tastes and preferences, caterers must continually innovate to come up with new products and offerings.

    a.     Many caterers have expanded beyond a ‘cook-and-convey’ service, into organising dining events.

    b.     Technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data, has the potential to help caterers provide more personalised services by generating insights into consumer behaviour and trends.

    c.     Recipes that focus on healthier and tasty dining options, as well as initiatives to promote sustainability and minimise food waste, are other ways for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition.

8.     We know business transformation can only succeed if it goes hand-in-hand with training and upskilling for workers. Companies need to bring your people along on your transformation journey.

    a.      It is important that workers embrace the changes and have the confidence to implement the company’s transformation plans. This includes our mature workers, who have many years of experience in this industry and can continue to contribute to their companies.

    b.     The Government will support our companies and workers in this collective effort. We have different schemes to support you, depending on your plans and business models.

9.      I know many business leaders here today have already started transforming your companies. I have met some of you and learnt about your experiences at the Food Services Transformation Conference last year and other events. I hope you can continue to share your examples and best practices with others in the industry and encourage them to embark on this journey. This is not a journey that will bear fruit in a couple of weeks or months. It will take a bit more time but if you do it and see the progress, it is also a sign of encouragement for both the management and the workers. If you look at it over a period of a few years, it will make a difference. It will allow you to differentiate yourself from the competition and allow you to be able to grow your business. Through such efforts, and the support of our tripartite partners, I believe we can continue to grow our F&B and catering industries in a sustainable manner, and provide good jobs and career progression opportunities for Singaporeans. Our plans to grow the Singapore economy and to grow various sectors, including tourism, those medium- to long-term plans remain unchanged. What is happening now with the Novel Coronavirus situation affects us but if we can work together to overcome this, the rebound will come and those medium- to longer-term plans to grow our tourism sector to attract more visitors to come, so that we generate more business, more MICE events, those still remain our priority at MTI, at STB and at various economic agencies. So yes, we need to deal with this short term problem that we are facing but we should also not forget about the medium- to longer-term plans.

Fostering a pro-enterprise environment to help businesses thrive

10.     One important area to support this longer term growth is to be able to provide a pro-enterprise operating environment to help businesses to thrive. The Government is reviewing our regulatory processes and policies to create such an environment for our businesses.

    a.     The Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP), under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, proactively seeks out feedback from businesses and Trade Associations & Chambers. This helps us to streamline rules and regulations, and support new innovation opportunities for local companies.

    b.     Since October last year, we launched the GoBusiness Licensing Portal. This is a collaboration with our industry partners like ACAPS and the Restaurant Association of Singapore. With the Food Services Guided Journey in the portal, we are making it simpler, better, and faster for businesses to apply for food-related licences through a single touchpoint. F&B business can now save up to 14 days in processing time and more than $500 in licence fees. And the number of data fields have reduced from over 800 to less than 100, from 14 different application forms to one single form.

    c.     Within the first three months of launch, more than 300 food services business owners have applied for licences through the Guided Journey. More than 10% of them are already on their third licence application to expand their business functions, including licences such as Halal certification. Over time, more and more companies will benefit from the enhanced licensing process.

         i.     For example, Occasions Catering Pte Ltd, a member of ACAPS, found it easy to apply for the food services licences that it required. In the company’s feedback to MTI, it took only 15 minutes to apply for the licences, which was one-tenth of the time taken in the past for similar transactions.

    d.     I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to ACAPS for supporting us during the review and development of the portal.

    e.     We welcome you to provide your feedback on our regulatory processes to ensure that they are business-friendly. Each time we simplify a rule or shorten a step in the process, we make it easier and less costly for our companies to operate.

     f.     Let me just give you one quick example. Previously, because of the Little India riot, an alcohol restriction was imposed on the sales of alcohol after 10.30pm. Because of the way the rules are written, it also includes alcoholic ice cream, including Rum & Raisin, Tiramisu, and many other flavours. Retail shops who were selling these had to stop the sales of these flavours after 10.30pm. If they opt to sell these flavours, they will have to apply for a liquor license that costs $800 a year. After feedback from these shops, and our review, we amended the rule to exclude such items. I give you this simple example to illustrate that feedback from you helps us improves our licensing and rules, and this is an important way of supporting innovation and transformation.

Conclusion

11.      We look forward to working closely with ACAPS and all of you in the new year, to help the catering industry build stronger capabilities, attain higher quality standards, develop deeper expertise, and reach new heights.

12.     I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Rat! 恭喜发财,生意兴隆!

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