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Vouchers a shot in arm for high street

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It is expected to be rolled out early in the new year and will be a boost to bricks and mortar businesses

It is expected to be rolled out early in the new year and will be a boost to bricks and mortar businesses

It is expected to be rolled out early in the new year and will be a boost to bricks and mortar businesses

The Executive is innovating in its attempts to ease the plight of businesses whose trade has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The latest initiative, sparked in part by the unexpected decision to close non-essential retailers from Friday, is a prime example of thinking outside the box.

The scheme which will see every person in Northern Ireland given a voucher worth between £75 and £100 to spend on the high street will cost approximately £95m.

It is expected to be rolled out early in the new year and will be a boost to bricks and mortar businesses - the money cannot be spent on online purchases - that normally regard January and February as the lowest point of their trading year.

It would be churlish in the extreme to look this gift horse in the mouth.

The scheme shows what can be done when government, which normally works at a glacial pace, pulls out the stops to launch specific projects.

But even this fast turnaround has its critics. They complain that many retailers will not achieve their normal returns in what is regarded as the golden quarter - the three months around the Christmas period - and that help should be given to them now.

There is no denying that many businesses are facing extreme pressures, and the hospitality industry justifiably can claim that it has suffered more than the retail sector.

There is a limit to what government, with its record-breaking level of borrowing, can do to sustain the economy while the pandemic is still raging.

On the plus side, while all the details of the scheme have yet to be worked out, it has the not inconsiderable benefit of putting extra money in consumers' pockets.

Admittedly, they will not be entirely free in how and where they spend it, but for hard-pressed families facing their own financial pressures through job losses, it will be an unexpected windfall.

The devil will be in the detail, and the logistics involved in sending pre-loaded debit cards to every person in the province are mind-boggling. Northern Ireland does not have a good track record in dispensing money through innovative schemes.

It is thought that the Executive will urge consumers to spend most of the money in locally owned retail outlets that have their roots in the province and deserve to be supported, but national retailers can claim that they have supplied customers for decades and did not desert the province during the dark days of the Troubles.

Even giving away money is not a simple task.

Belfast Telegraph


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