A high street voucher scheme will open at the end of the summer, if conditions are right, the Stormont Economy Minister has said. iane Dodds initially announced plans to give a pre-paid card to every adult in Northern Ireland last November to boost the retail sector following the coronavirus lockdown. However, the High Street Stimulus (HSS) scheme rollout was postponed following a sharp spike in cases in December, which resulted in a fresh lockdown.
A man walks down a quiet street in Belfast city centre during lockdown (Brian Lawless/PA)
PAA man walks down a quiet street in Belfast city centre during lockdown (Brian Lawless/PA)
On Friday, as non-essential retail stores were permitted to open for the first time since December, Ms Dodds announced that if conditions are right, the HSS scheme will open at the end of the summer. She said every person aged 18 and over will be eligible to apply for a pre-paid card worth GBP100 to spend in their local high street.
"I am excited to see shoppers back in our high streets, customers once again enjoying outdoor hospitality and the return of holidaymakers to self-contained accommodation. I am optimistic because reopening of our economy is the most important first step towards economic recovery," she said. "However, our High Street Stimulus scheme will provide a timely boost to this recovery.
"It will provide eligible applicants with a pre-paid card worth GBP100. This means up to 1.4 million people will spend an extra GBP140 million on our high streets rather than online. "This has a multiplier effect which will help bring many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality and other sectors.
"We have commissioned research into when the HSS would be most beneficial to our economic recovery. We expect there will be pent up demand following the easing of restrictions. Therefore we believe that the end of the summer is the appropriate time to deliver this spending boost."
Mrs Dodds also revealed that a planned Holiday at Home voucher scheme will open in the autumn aimed to drive demand after the summer season. It is designed to allow Northern Ireland households to claim back 50% off a stay of two nights or more in certified accommodation, up to the value of GBP100. "My Economic Recovery Action Plan (ERAP) sets out the actions that will enable us to build a more competitive and inclusive economy as we move forward from today," she said.
"The High Street Stimulus Scheme and the Holiday at Home Schemes are cornerstones of this plan. "Today is a bright day as Northern Ireland takes another step towards normality, and it is vital that this momentum is maintained. "Of course, every one of us can play our part by following the guidance to ensure a safe as well as an enjoyable experience."
Media campaigns for both schemes will be launched to encourage the public to register for pre-paid cards and vouchers online.