Vouchers have boosted the NI economy by £137.5m, says department
The Spend Local scheme boosted the Northern Ireland economy by more than £137m – while those who got their cards late will be able to spend them from Christmas Eve until early January, Gordon Lyons has said.
The Economy Minister hailed the £100 vouchers had been a “huge success”, adding that it achieved what it set out to do.
The scheme, which launched in September and closed at midnight on December 19, has not been without problems.
Some people faced lengthy waits to receive their cards, while others got them in the post after the deadline had past.
The department said cards delivered late include ones that have been reissued due to being lost/stolen or faulty and also “those who applied late, made errors in their applications or did not respond to requests for information within the scheme’s application and verification time period”.
“The cards were issued at-risk because the department wanted to ensure the most amount of people could support local businesses and was, therefore, verifying applications up to the very last minute. These card holders will be able to use their cards from 9am on Friday, December 24 until 11.59pm on Friday, January 7,” it explained.
The department said will be in direct contact with affected applicants with further information on Wednesday.
The decision has been welcomed, however, questions have been raised over the implementation of the scheme.
The department added: “The Department has become aware of a technical issue affecting 2,010 cards on the final weekend of the scheme. The vast majority of these cards had less than £5 outstanding balance and 300 cards did have the full balance remaining.
"It is unfortunate that these applicants were not able to support their local businesses, and the Department will also be in contact with these applicants to let them know they can also use their card from Friday, December 24 until Friday, January 7, 2022.
"The Department appreciates that there may be wider issues affecting applications or the use of cards. Now the scheme has closed, the Department will take stock of the various issues people have faced and consider options for remedy.”
According to an Ulster Bank Survey, retail sales in Northern Ireland rose in November for the first time in four months. The bank's monthly survey of private sector businesses is considered a reliable indicator of economic performance. Its Chief Economist Richard Ramsey said the scheme undoubtedly contributed to the pick-up in demand.
A report from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) showed that Northern Ireland’s footfall in November increased by 5.6 percentage points on the previous month. Northern Ireland’s shop visits were 10 percentage points higher than the UK average.
"Over 1.4 million pre-paid £100 Spend Local cards were dispatched and we boosted the economy by over £137.5 million,” said Mr Lyons.
"The scheme also received a lot of positive feedback from a wide variety of businesses and organisations across all parts of Northern Ireland.”
He added: “I would like to thank every cardholder who spent their card with a local business. Not only have they provided support to that business, but also to their wider community through supporting local employment.”
The Minister continued: “The scheme set out to support local businesses which had been hardest hit during the pandemic and it is clear, through any objective analysis, that it has undoubtedly done just that.”
East Belfast UUP MLA Andy Allen welcomed Mr Lyon’s announcement, however, he stressed the latest development means issues remain.
“I have repeatedly called over the past number of weeks for an extension to the spending deadline as the issues were evident from the vast number of people contacting me who hadn’t received their card or were experiencing problems trying to use theirs,” he said.
“The announcement raises further questions however - how will the Minister address individuals who have cards that do not function? How will he provide access to the Spend Local cards to the thousands who have submitted identification within the original timeline, but have still not received their cards? Clarification for those affected is urgently required.
“I emphasise that this scheme has had a very positive benefit for the local economy, but wonder why, with the amount of time the Minister had between the announcement and launch of the Spend Local Scheme, there were so many flaws and failings?”