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Education, housing, healthcare and living environment initiatives highlight Budget's future focus
     Investing for the future was a central theme of the 2018-19 Budget unveiled today (February 28) by the Financial Secretary, Mr Paul Chan.

     Mr Chan pointed out that the Government will optimise the use of surplus to improve existing services and quality of life, and at the same time to invest for the future, in particular on education, land resources, healthcare and the environment, to make Hong Kong an ideal smart city to work and live in.

     In education, the Financial Secretary noted that the current-term Government had pledged to boost recurrent education expenditure by $5 billion, of which $3.6 billion has been approved by the Legislative Council. To that, he added an additional recurrent expenditure of $2 billion for a variety of initiatives, including enhancing the professional development of teachers, strengthening support to kindergartens and promoting integrated education and life-wide learning.  

     Mr Chan also allocated $2.5 billion to launch the eighth round of the Matching Grant Scheme. The addition, he said, will help the 10 publicly funded post-secondary institutions tap more funding sources, promote community involvement and improve the quality of education.

     The Government will invite the Quality Education Fund Steering Committee to consider allocating $3 billion for application by primary and secondary schools, kindergartens and special schools. Mr Chan said the money would help launch school-based curriculum development and student support measures, while funding school improvement works and the procurement of supplies.

     To enhance gifted student development, the Government will inject $800 million into the Gifted Education Fund in 2018-19. Another $800 million will be added to the HKSAR Government Scholarship Fund to increase the number of scholarships, beginning with the 2019/20 academic year.

     For students with care needs, the Government will increase the nursing support of schools for children with intellectual disabilities, as well as schools for children with physical disabilities and those for children with visual impairment and intellectual disabilities.

     Mr Chan also pledged $2 billion to expedite the installation of lifts in public sector schools to help build barrier-free campuses.

     In addition, Mr Chan said he would earmark $2.5 billion to set up a Student Activities Support Fund to help students with financial needs participate in learning activities emphasising whole-person development.

     The Pilot Scheme on Promoting Interflows between Sister Schools in Hong Kong and the Mainland will be regularised in the 2018/19 school year. Participating schools receive a grant of $150,000 a year. The additional annual expenditure will be about $170 million.

     Turning to housing, Mr Chan said that the estimated public housing production for the next five years is about 100 000 units, of which about 75 000 are for public rental housing and about 25 000 are subsidised sale flats. On private housing flats, based on the preliminary estimation, the private sector will, on average, complete about 20 800 residential units annually in the next five years, representing an increase of about 50 per cent over the past five years.

     Four commercial/hotel sites will be included in the 2018-19 Land Sale Programme, capable of providing about 530 000 square metres of floor area. Mr Chan said the Task Force on Land Supply would soon launch a public engagement exercise to discuss options and priorities of increasing land supply, with recommendations to be submitted to the Government by year's end.

     To optimise the use of government land, Mr Chan said he would set aside $1 billion to subsidise the cost of basic works of eligible projects. This would make it easier for vacant government sites and school premises to be used by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) via short-term tenancies.

     Mr Chan said that healthcare was an issue of concern to the community, noting that this year's outbreak of winter influenza "has reminded us once again of the pressing need to improve healthcare services".

     To that end, he said additional recurrent funding of nearly $6 billion would be allocated to the Hospital Authority in 2018-19. The funds would be used, among other things, to increase the number of hospital beds, operating theatre sessions and the manpower required.

     Mr Chan said the Government would progressively increase the recurrent provision for the Hospital Authority on a triennium basis, having regard to population growth and demographic changes, to allow for more effective resource planning.

     He said he had invited the Hospital Authority to start planning the second 10-year hospital development plan. The second 10-year plan will cover the study of in-situ redevelopment of Princess Margaret Hospital and Tuen Mun Hospital, construction of a new hospital at the King's Park site (i.e. the existing Queen Elizabeth Hospital site) and expansion of North Lantau Hospital.

     The Financial Secretary set aside $300 billion, as an initial provision, to support the second 10-year hospital development plan, improve clinical facilities of the Department of Health and upgrade healthcare teaching facilities.

     Mr Chan said more than 2 000 medical graduates would come on stream in the next five years and that he would ensure that the Hospital Authority has adequate resources to employ all local medical graduates. An additional $200 million would be allocated each year to enhance healthcare professional training provided by the Hospital Authority.

     The Government is in discussions with the University Grants Committee to increase publicly funded training places for doctors, dentists, nurses and allied health professionals in the coming three years.

     The Financial Secretary pledged additional annual funding of $100 million to the Department of Health for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. This, he said, would help reduce non-communicable diseases throughout the community.

     The Government will provide about $54 million for a three-year project to encourage more NGOs to provide free oral check-ups, dental treatments and oral health education for adults with intellectual disabilities. Mr Chan also emphasised the importance of improving dental care services for the elderly.

     The accumulation limit of Elderly Health Care Vouchers will be raised from $4,000 to $5,000 this year, Mr Chan said, adding that he would provide, on a one-off basis, an additional $1,000 worth of vouchers to eligible elderly persons, at an expenditure of about $796 million.

     The Financial Secretary will establish a $500 million fund to promote the development of Chinese medicine.

     Mr Chan added that details of a Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme would be announced shortly.

     Turning to the arts, Mr Chan said he would set aside $20 billion to continuously upgrade cultural hardware. Over the next 10 years, a variety of projects will be rolled out, including the New Territories East Cultural Centre; the expansion of the Hong Kong Science Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of History and Hong Kong City Hall; and the renovation of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

     The Financial Secretary said he would allocate $500 million to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for the acquisition of museum collections and to hold exhibitions.

     Starting from 2018-19, an additional recurrent provision of $55 million will be provided to the nine major performing arts groups, as well as small- and medium-sized arts groups funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

     The Financial Secretary said he would inject an additional $500 million into the Art Development Matching Grants Pilot Scheme, and consider relaxing its matching parameters, to encourage donations supporting the development of arts groups.

     Mr Chan said he would progressively increase the recurrent provision to $50 million to support Hong Kong's arts groups and artists in performing and staging exhibitions outside Hong Kong.

     The Financial Secretary said he would, over the next five years, provide $40 million in additional funding to the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society to support performances, along with $20 million to expand the Community Cultural Ambassadors Scheme and $140 million to support local arts groups and artists for cultural exchanges in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area.

     Noting that the Government had announced its first Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Hong Kong last year, Mr Chan said he would allocate $300 million to strengthen the protection, promotion and transmission of the ICH.

     In addition, he pledged $70 million for the Cantonese Opera Development Fund to support the production and performances of local Cantonese opera troupes.

     To promote reading among children and families, the Financial Secretary will allocate an additional $200 million to the Hong Kong Public Libraries over the next five years.

     Emphasising the importance of sports at all levels of the community, Mr Chan said he would inject $1 billion into the sports portion of the Arts and Sport Development Fund to train athletes and host competitions. "I will also allocate $100 million for the launch of a five-year District Sports Programmes Funding Scheme to encourage wider community participation in sports," Mr Chan said.

     In support of elite athletes, Mr Chan said he would add a further $5 billion to the Elite Athletes Development Fund.

     The Financial Secretary will allocate $500 million for a new Major Sports Events Matching Grant Scheme to encourage the business sector to sponsor large-scale sports events.

     To improve the environment and combat climate change, the Financial Secretary is setting aside $800 million this year to promote the installation of renewable energy facilities at government buildings, venues and community facilities. This is in addition to the allocation of $200 million last year.

     Mr Chan will set aside $8 billion to respond to proposals for improving district facilities in 18 districts. These include building community complexes and improving pedestrian links.

     The Financial Secretary has also earmarked $2 billion to implement a Market Modernisation Programme over the next 10 years.
Ends/Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:51
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