Saturday 15 June 2013

Tender criteria for HDB childcare centres revamped 13 June 2013

Premises will no longer go to highest bidder, which could lead to lower fees
By Priscilla Goy And Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2013

FAMILIES could have access to more affordable pre-schooling following a shake-up in the way Housing Board sites are awarded.

The premises will no longer go simply to the private childcare operator that enters the highest bid.

Instead, the authorities will also take into account factors such as the quality of its programmes and the fees it intends to charge.

Details of the revamped tender system were unveiled yesterday.

It is being brought in to end the practice of awarding sites to the firm that offers to pay the most - which has sparked a bidding war between private operators and pushed up fees for parents.

However, it is unlikely to take effect straightaway as only two sites are currently up for grabs.

Under the new tender evaluation process, which starts today, the bid price will make up only half of the score.

Affordable fees have the second highest weighting, at 20 per cent. Next is the operator's track record - at 15 per cent - while the quality of its programmes accounts for 10 per cent of the score. The remaining 5 per cent is determined by whether it helps the disadvantaged and promotes community integration.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing announced the revised system yesterday. Speaking after a visit to the Agape Little Uni childcare centre in Jurong West, he said: "We hope operators will translate some of these savings to lower fees so that more parents from the middle- to lower- income groups can enjoy the services that the centres provide."

Fees charged by private operators on HDB premises have soared to a median $748 a month for a full-day childcare programme - up from $580 five years ago.

When submitting their proposals, operators have to say how much they will charge for the next three years, said the Early Childhood Development Agency.

They will be expected to stick to this price after being awarded a site. Mr Chan said the new tender process was "more refined and sophisticated", and would allow parents to make informed decisions.

The agency said it is looking into the feasibility of applying similar tender evaluation processes for private childcare operators who bid for other state-owned premises, such as bungalows under the Singapore Land Authority.

Pre-school operators said the new criteria would help to tackle skyrocketing bid prices.

Rents at HDB void decks have hit almost $50,000 a month in newer estates such as Sengkang.

Mr Francis Ng, founder of childcare chain Carpe Diem, said: "This new evaluation process will raise the barriers of entry, and if you are a new player with little credibility, it will be difficult for you to compete."

But he added that the system is fair to both established and new operators as it places equal importance on both the tender price and affordability, and quality.

Ameba Schoolhouse centre director Xinhui Liaw-Tan said that as a new operator, this puts her in a better position to compete with financially stronger rivals. "At least now if I lose out, I wouldn't feel like I have lost out simply because of ridiculous rents."

Project officer Lim Nam Lee, 37, who intends to send his one-year-old daughter to a centre next year, said: "I have heard many stories about schools that change teachers and school fees frequently. The new bidding system will provide parents with more assurance of the centre's quality."

The first two sites to be included in the new process are located at Block 22A, Teban Gardens Road, and Block 168D, Punggol Field. The tenders open today.

Close to 700 of the 1,051 childcare centres in Singapore are commercially run. The rest are run by non-profit operators.


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