The Hong Kong government took a U-turn on Tuesday regarding its controversial plan to shut down a job training centre for disabled teens, saying there is a possibility its operator can continue to provide services at a new site under an enhanced mode. The surprise announcement came after weeks of fervent protests from students, parents, and alumni at the decision to close the facility. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed in her October policy address that the government would redevelop the 118,000 sq ft site in Kwun Tong, which currently houses the Shine Skills Centre, operated by the Vocational Training Council (VTC). In its place will be a civil service college featuring upgraded facilities for staff training. After the initial public outcry, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said last month the government was looking at identifying a site at a more central location in Kowloon for a new integrated vocational training centre (IVTC), which is typically run by an NGO. But critics questioned the suitability of replacing the Shine centre, which is set to be demolished in 2021, with an IVTC as the former is run by an educational organisation and offers a wider range of programmes. Authorities questioned over proper education for city’s disabled teens The government will discuss with the VTC regarding the new service mode, depending on its willingness and its assessments of the new service mode Law Chi-kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Speaking at a special Legislative Council panel on welfare services meeting, Law explained that the IVTC would feature an enhanced format merging the benefits of IVTCs and Shine. “The government will discuss with the VTC regarding the new service mode, depending on its willingness and its assessments of the new service mode,” he said. “If the VTC feels that the enhanced format is not something they want to run, then the Social Welfare Department might need to make a call for tenders, but if early discussions between the government and the VTC render a win-win situation, then there will be no need for the tenders.” He said the aim was for the project to be completed by September 2021, with a site being renovated rather than a new one being built. Law added that the government aimed to confirm the operator by the middle of next year. The VTC has 13 member institutions and is the largest provider of vocational education in the city. Shine provides training programmes for people with disabilities aged 15 and above. The Kwun Tong campus offers around 300 places for students, while its two other campuses in Pok Fu Lam on Hong Kong Island and Tuen Mun in the New Territories offer 60 and 200 places respectively. “To be honest, I have never said that we are closing the school, we just said that we are reprovisioning,” Law said. “I hope people will not say things that cause alarm for others because the government needs time for discussions for some of our works.” But the VTC previously noted that Shine in Kwun Tong would cease operations in 2021. VTC executive director Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, who was at the same meeting, said she was only informed about the possibility of the council continuing its services on Monday night. She said the VTC was open to discussions and would try its best to cooperate with the government, but first had to understand what the new service mode was and whether it was something within its abilities. 800 protest against plan to relocate training centre for disabled teens Yau added that, while the VTC thought it was time for the 50-year-old campus to be redeveloped, it did not think its operations would cease and it was disappointed when it learned the news. Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said that Law’s comments suggested a turn for the better, but he warned that nothing was confirmed. “For such a special education facility like Shine, stability is very important,” he said. When pressed by Legco members for more details about the location of the new IVTC, Law said the government could not reveal such information before consultations with relevant stakeholders as previous experience showed that announcing locations of such facilities ahead of time resulted in the failure to implement such projects.