An economic stimulus scheme that would have offered Northern Ireland households £100 off local tourism stays has been scrapped, the Economy Minister has confirmed.
Gordon Lyons told the Assembly that the planned Holiday at Home voucher scheme will not proceed.
He said the Executive had not given its support to the initiative after his departmental officials found it would not provide value for money.
Mr Lyons said he had urged the Executive to consider backing the scheme despite the value for money concerns, arguing it would have provided a “significant economic boost” to the struggling tourism and hospitality sector.
Under the Covid-19 economic stimulus scheme, households would have been eligible to claim 50% off a two-night stay in local accommodation, up to the value of £100.
I’m very disappointed that I wasn’t able to secure support for what could have been really beneficial measures during a really difficult timeGordon Lyons
Vouchers, which would have been allocated on a first come first served basis, would also have offered 50% off visits to tourist attractions, up to the value of £20.
“Unfortunately the holiday at home scheme is now not proceeding,” Mr Lyons told Assembly question time.
“I had looked forward to being able to bring the scheme through because I recognise the difficult time that hotels and the hospitality industry more generally has had over the last number of months.
“I had brought this to my department, they were considering the business case for the scheme but we’re unable to confirm that it offered value for money.
“However, because I believed that it would give that much-needed boost, and combined private and public sector money, that it would have been worth considering.
“So, I therefore issued a ministerial direction to my departmental accounting officer and that required it to be taken to the Executive or the Minister of Finance (Conor Murphy).
“Unfortunately, the Executive was not willing to approve the scheme and neither was the Department for Finance, so unfortunately it will now not be able to progress.”
He added: “I thought that would have been a really good way to boost the economy and keep the hospitality and hotel sector, in particular, going during those really difficult months of January, February and March time.
“I’m very disappointed that I wasn’t able to secure support for what could have been really beneficial measures during a really difficult time.”
Mr Lyons said he had secured £6.5 million to boost tourism marketing activity in the remainder of the financial year.
“I hope in some way that that does help those businesses that are struggling,” he said.
The minister said £1.6 million of money spent through the Executive’s other flagship stimulus initiative – the High Street Voucher Scheme – had been spent with tourism providers.
Mr Lyons provided a wider update on the high street scheme during question time.
He said that almost 1.4 million £100 pre-paid cards had been issued and £115 million had been spent in the local economy to date. He said 1,350,436 cards had been activated.
The minister said there was already evidence that the initiative was driving increased footfall rates in the region – with high streets in Northern Ireland comparatively busier at the moment than those in England, Scotland and Wales.
He urged people to spend all the money on their cards. He said the average amount remaining unspent had fallen from £17 last week to £11 this week.
Mr Lyons responded to concerns that some people had still not received their cards despite the deadline for spending them being only a week away.
The minister said another 4,500 cards had been issued on Monday using a next-day delivery service.