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Free money lost on many Northern Ireland Spend Local applicants

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Economy Minister Gordon Lyons pictured launching the High Street Support Scheme.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons pictured launching the High Street Support Scheme.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons pictured launching the High Street Support Scheme.

Local spending proved impossible for some people who wanted to cash in on Stormont's Spend Local scheme, it has emerged.

But the Department for the Economy has insisted many of the failures are not their fault, according to an initial assessment of the initiative to boost the hard-hit retail sector.

The £100-per-person cards had to be re-issued in cases where people reported theirs as lost, stolen or faulty - or who had applied to the scheme late.

And a number of other locals made errors in their applications, and then some of them did not respond to requests for further information or missed deadlines.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons intends to make a full statement to the Assembly soon when he will be quizzed by MLAs.

And a more detailed examination of the scheme will be carried out when the full data becomes available.

But Mr Lyons' Department stressed: "It is clear that the High Street scheme has been very successful. Over 1.4 million pre-paid £100 Spend Local cards were dispatched that boosted the economy.

"The scheme also received a lot of positive feedback from a wide variety of businesses and organisations across all parts of Northern Ireland."

However "a small proportion" of the cards sent out in the closing days of the scheme "may not have been delivered in time”.

A spokesman for Mr Lyons added: "In addition, a relatively small number of others may not have an opportunity to use their Spend Local Card before the scheme ended on December 19.

"The cards delivered late include those 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.”

Applicants who still failed to spend their cards after the third extension of the deadline, until one minute before midnight on Friday January 7 have been given "further information" by the Department.

"We were verifying cards up until the last minute because we wanted to ensure the most amount of people could support local businesses," a statement on behalf of Minister Lyons added.

"We do appreciate that there may be wider issues affecting applications or the use of cards. The Department will take stock of the various issues people have faced and consider options for remedy.

"Detailed analysis of the High Street Scheme data is ongoing and will be published when the necessary work is completed."

Towards the end of December it was reported that around 4,000 cards were still awaiting delivery even after the scheme had been extended for five days. It was alleged at one point they were sitting in a depot in Belfast.



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