The idea of restricting an upcoming high street voucher scheme to those who have been vaccinated has sparked disagreement between two Stormont ministers. he Health Minister Robin Swann suggested he would be in favour of examining a proposal around allowing only those who are fully vaccinated to cash in the GBP100 pre-paid card. However, he explained the scheme was not in his remit and "can't therefore make such a decision on it". "I am supportive of a wider discussion on incentives," he said.
The idea was slapped down by the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, with his department arguing it would create "unnecessary bureaucracy," legal issues and ultimately put the scheme in jeopardy of never getting off the ground. A former economy minister described the scheme as "utter madness". It will be Mr Lyons department that will administer the much-delayed scheme.
The high street stimulus scheme was set up under former minister Diane Dodds, with the pre-paid card able to be spent in local high street shops and hospitality establishments. While there is still no official date for when people will receive the voucher, it is expected to launch in the autumn. The idea was mooted on the BBC's Stephen Nolan show on Tuesday, amid concerns over significant numbers of those aged under 30 not getting vaccinated.
Health Minister Robin Swann said he would consider making the voucher programme available only to those fully vaccinated and planned to discuss it with the Executive. "It is something I will have the discussion and raise at the Executive committee certainly as regards to that incentive for people to come forward and get vaccinated," he said.
Health Minister Robin SwannHealth Minister Robin Swann
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, said he would not be in favour of the idea of needing to prove a full vaccination before anyone could cash in their high street voucher. In a statement, a spokesperson for his department added: "The economy minister does not support making the High Street Scheme conditional on individuals being fully vaccinated.
"Such a suggestion would create unnecessary bureaucracy, throws up a range of legal issues and could ultimately jeopardise the entire scheme. "As previously announced by the Department for the Economy, and backed by the Executive, every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over will be eligible to apply for a pre-paid card worth GBP100 to spend in supporting local businesses. Further announcements will be made in due course."
While some agreed with the proposal, a number of Belfast Telegraph readers rejected the idea of the voucher being linked to vaccination. Sharon Montgomery wrote: "It was supposed to be a stimulus for the high street economy not a dangling carrot." While David Graham described the idea as "discriminatory and wrong".
Former Economy Minister Paul Frew said the idea of the voucher being tied to vaccination status was "utter madness".
What utter madness! The High Street STIMULUS Scheme is designed to stimulate local businesses following the harmful lockdowns, open to every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over. Totally opposed to using it to discriminate against people on their medical history & status. https://t.co/GHEPkjHCL6-- Paul Frew (@paulfrewDUP) July 27, 2021
"The High Street STIMULUS Scheme is designed to stimulate local businesses following the harmful lockdowns, open to every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over.
Totally opposed to using it to discriminate against people on their medical history & status," he wrote on Twitter. DUP colleague Sammy Wilson also responded with a clapping hand emoji on the social media platform when responding to a tweet about the comments from Gordon Lyons. A trade body which represents retailers in Northern Ireland said while there was a need to increase the numbers of those getting both vaccines, it should not be linked to the voucher scheme.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said he understood the Minister's intentions but that the idea was ultimately a "non-runner". He said: "The first thing is, I absolutely understanding where he (Robin Swann) is coming from, and I totally agree with the need to increase levels of vaccination - but it's a mistake to connect it with the high street voucher scheme. "That's about helping struggling independent retailers and regional high streets - it's not a means to increase the take-up of the vaccine.
"There's also concern in practical terms about how this would work. Would it be the Department for Health deciding who gets it, or the shopkeeper? How would it be enforced and how would it be policed?"
He added: "It's a non-runner." A Department of Health spokesperson added: "We will always encourage the uptake of healthy behaviours first and foremost. However there is evidence from across the globe on the effectiveness of offering incentives as a way of promoting behavioural change.
That is something we should not entirely dismiss."
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