Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Nicholas W Yang, in the Legislative Council today (November 1):
The Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living (FBL), established by the Government with an allocation of $500 million, has been open for application since May 31 this year. The FBL subsidises projects aiming at improving people’s daily living or benefiting specific community groups through the use of innovation and technology (I&T). Non-governmental organisations subvented by the Social Welfare Department (SWD), public bodies, professional bodies and trade associations are eligible to apply. Some members of the social welfare sector have indicated that at least 200-odd small and medium-sized social welfare organisations (SWOs) not subvented by the SWD are not eligible to apply, and they consider that the threshold for application for the FBL is too high. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of applications received, vetted, approved and rejected by the authorities so far; the contents and modes of the I&T projects involved in the applications; the total and average amounts of funds granted to the approved applications; if there were applications rejected, of the main reasons for that;
(2) whether the authorities had, before launching the FBL, consulted the social welfare sector on issues such as the eligibility criteria for application for the FBL; if so, of the details and the views received; and
(3) of the justifications for the FBL to accept applications from the aforesaid organisations only; whether it will extend the coverage of organisations eligible for application to include small and medium-sized SWOs not subvented by the SWD; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Our reply to the question raised by the Hon Charles Mok is as follows:
(1) The Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living was launched on May 31 this year. As at October 25, the FBL Secretariat has received a total of 650 enquiries and 17 applications. From the enquiries received by the FBL Secretariat and through the contact with relevant organisations, we learn that a number of organisations are preparing their applications and plan to submit them shortly.
Part of the applications received are from private companies, which do not meet the eligibility criteria of the FBL. The FBL Secretariat has returned the applications concerned, and advised the applicants to partner with eligible organisations for re-submission.
The applications received fall into different categories, including mobile apps that provide information, equipment that facilitates persons with disabilities and teaching tools with technology applications. The average amount of funding sought is about $3 million. The Assessment Panel of the FBL will convene meeting in November to assess project proposals that have gone through preliminary assessment.
(2) We have consulted relevant government departments, the Legislative Council Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting and the Assessment Panel on the details of the FBL prior to its launch. The Assessment Panel comprises members from different sectors, including the social welfare sector. All the sectors have expressed support for the establishment of the FBL. The FBL’s mode of operation, including eligibility criteria, project requirements and implementation details, etc, is the result of rounds of discussions. Upon the launch of the FBL, this bureau conducted four briefing sessions to promote the FBL for organisations including the social welfare sector. Participants showed very positive response to the FBL.
(3) The FBL generally accepts applications from the following organisations, including non-governmental organisations subvented by the Social Welfare Department, public bodies, professional bodies and trade associations. This is to ensure that the applicant’s background aligns with the objectives of the FBL (including the project should involve the application of innovation and technology to improve people’s daily living, or address the needs of specific community groups, and be non-profit-making during the funding period) in order to prevent abuse. Nevertheless, flexibility is also provided under the FBL. If an applicant can provide information to prove that its objective and business meet the requirements of the FBL, the application will be considered by the FBL Secretariat. Indeed, the FBL Secretariat has received applications from social welfare organisations not subvented by the SWD and is conducting assessment.
The FBL Secretariat has also received many enquiries from SWOs not subvented by the SWD and explained to them that they are welcomed to submit applications if the proposed projects contain I&T elements and are beneficial to the community.
As the FBL is a completely new scheme, we will regularly evaluate its operation and effectiveness. We also plan to conduct a review two years after its launch to consider whether its mode of operation or other details require enhancement or adjustment.