FS unveils raft of Budget measures on livelihood issues

     The Financial Secretary, Mr John C Tsang, has today (February 23) unveiled a raft of measures to improve the quality of life in Hong Kong and provide more opportunities for people to reach their potential.

     New initiatives or measures were announced in education, health care, elderly services, sports development and retirement protection, including:

* A one-off, $6,000 payment into the MPF accounts of all MPF scheme members and members of occupational retirement schemes covered by the Employment Ordinance, at a cost of $24 billion. The proposal will assist Hong Kong people preparing for retirement, will not increase inflationary pressure and is drawn up in the light of the Government¡¦s fiscal position.

* A $7 billion Elite Athletes Development Fund to help offset the operations of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and provide more comprehensive support to elite athletes.

* An extra $1.94 billion for vocational training efforts.  

* An additional $1 billion to continue the Operation Building Bright programme for refurbishing old buildings.

* $1 billion to extend the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme for another three years and increase the annual voucher value to $500.
     Mr Tsang said education would continue to take up the largest share of recurrent government expenditure, with spending in 2011-12 exceeding $54 billion and taking up 22.5 per cent of recurrent government expenditure.

     More support would be given to needy students to ensure their studies were not affected by a lack of financial means.

     This would include an extra $300 million a year for student financial assistance under the means test mechanism from the 2011-12 academic year. An additional 75 000 students at all levels would qualify for full assistance, while the number of students receiving full assistance would rise from about 110 000 to approximately 190 000, or about 50 per cent of the total number of recipients.

     An extra $140 million will be spent on financial assistance for post-secondary students which will result in about 30 000 students receiving full assistance and a further 22 000 receiving more assistance.

     The Financial Secretary said $110 million would be earmarked for a new scheme to provide children in low-income families with after-school homework guidance.

     "The Education Bureau will collaborate with local tertiary institutions to encourage and enlist tertiary students, especially those full-time students interested in joining the teaching profession, to provide after-school homework guidance for students from low-income families and help them with their studies,¡¨ he said.

     An extra $250 million would also be injected into HKSAR Government Scholarship Fund to extend the benefit to students of publicly-funded sub-degree programmes.

     Another $100 million would be allocated for a five-year pilot programme ¡V the Mainland Experience Scheme for Post-secondary Students ¡V to subsidise on a matching basis more than 30 000 local tertiary students participating in short-term internships or learning programmes such as visits, exchanges or voluntary services in the Mainland. Each student could receive a subsidy of up to $3,000.

     To meet community demands for vocational training, the Government would provide a recurrent subvention of about $1.94 billion to the Vocational Training Council in 2011-12.

     He said the programmes provided would offer fresh graduates another option, other than further studies or seeking a job, to achieve self-reliance and self-enhancement.

     Mr Tsang said recurrent expenditure on social welfare for 2011-12 would reach $42.2 billion, an increase of $4.2 billion over 2010-11 ¡V the greatest spending growth for any policy area group.

     To better help new arrivals and ethnic minorities, the Home Affairs Department (HAD) will be given more resources in 2011-12 and will set up a dedicated team to strengthen and integrate support services.

     To pursue the policy objective of ¡§ageing in place¡¨, more resources will be allocated, with an extra $76 million annually to be spent on providing about 1 700 additional places for community care services for elderly people.

     An extra $148 million a year will be allocated for the pilot Integrated Discharge Support Programme for Elderly Patients to make it a regular service and extend its coverage from three districts to all districts. This will benefit around 33 000 people a year, compared to 8 000 at present.

     Another $130 million a year will provide about 1 300 additional subsidised residential care places, including nursing home places, care-and-attention places and places offering a continuum of care.

     Mr Tsang said he would allocate $1 billion to extend the pilot Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme for another three years and increase the value of health care vouchers from $250 to $500 per year for each elderly citizen aged 70 or above.

     An extra $328 million in annual spending would raise the standard rates for adult CSSA recipients under the age of 60 with disabilities and in ill-health to the same level as those for elderly CSSA recipients in similar health conditions. The proposal will benefit about 55 000 people.

     And an extra $590 million in recurrent spending would be allocated to extend the community living supplement to cover recipients with disabilities at non-severe level, recipients in ill-health and elderly people. This proposal will benefit about 190 000 recipients.

     More would be done to provide barrier-free access for disabled members of the community, with government departments spending $120 million in 2011-12 to upgrade existing barrier-free access facilities in Government properties. The Government will also seek LegCo funding approval this year for $280 million to design and retrofit barrier-free access at about 180 public footbridges and subways by 2016-17.

     To protect public health, the Financial Secretary proposed raising the duty on cigarettes by $0.5, or 41.5 per cent, per stick, with immediate effect. A similar percentage rise will apply to all other tobacco products.

     To help repair and maintain old buildings, an extra $1 billion will be allocated for Operation Building Bright which, since its launch in 2009, has provided financial assistance to owners of over 1 900 old buildings and created nearly 16 000 employment opportunities.

     "We forecast that the campaign will eventually provide financial assistance for the repair and maintenance of over 3 000 buildings aged 30 years or above and create more than 60 000 employment opportunities related to the construction industry," he said.

     An extra $500 million will also be allocated to promote heritage conservation through the Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership Scheme.

     On sports development, a new $7 billion Elite Athletes Development Fund will be established, with its investment returns replace the current mode of subvention to the Hong Kong Sports Institute.

     "This will help make the Institute a world-class training centre, provide more comprehensive support to elite athletes, and strengthen our efforts to identify and train young athletes with potential," said Mr Tsang.

     To help people at the grass-roots level start their own business or take career training courses, the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation will study the feasibility of operating sustainable Microfinance and the local demand for such facilities.

     Bankers and voluntary agencies will be invited to form a study group, consult stakeholders and organisations concerned, and submit recommendations to the Financial Secretary within six months.

     Mr Tsang also announced plans to curb the growth of private car ownership which had surged by 5.4 per cent in 2010 and was causing more traffic congestion on Hong Kong roads.

     The rate of each tax band for the First Registration Tax for private cars would be increased by about 15 per cent. Rates for other vehicles and existing concessions for environmentally-friendly petrol private cars and electric vehicles would remain unchanged.

Ends/Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:09