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Mike Nesbitt highlights equality issues over holiday voucher scheme

Mike Nesbitt has requested an urgent briefing on the £2m Holiday at Home voucher scheme as concerns mount about its viability.
conomy Minister Gordon Lyons has said it is now a matter of “if” the scheme proceeds, rather than when.
His department said i…

Mike Nesbitt has requested an urgent briefing on the GBP2m Holiday at Home voucher scheme as concerns mount about its viability. conomy Minister Gordon Lyons has said it is now a matter of "if" the scheme proceeds, rather than when. His department said it was looking at the scheme afresh in the context of tourism's performance over the summer months, as well as any impact from the Spend Local retail voucher programme.

It would entail households obtaining a voucher giving GBP100 off an accommodation stay or a voucher giving GBP20 off a tourist attraction visit, after the visit or stay has taken place. A household would be able to claim just one voucher of each kind on a "first come, first served" basis. Strangford UUP MLA Mr Nesbitt, a member of the department's scrutiny committee, said: "At the committee I suggested we seek an urgent briefing on the Holiday at Home scheme.

"The biggest issue, I think, is how do they square the concept that it's 'first come, first served' with an equality agenda? "Could you have a very well-off couple going to a five-star hotel and people living in an area of deprivation -- who could really use a weekend break in Portrush -- losing out? "The equality impact assessment is going to be very interesting."

He added: "You have to spend the money and then claim back; so, if it's a finite scheme on a first come, first served basis, how can you as a consumer be confident that if you spend the money there will still be government money in the pot to pay you?" Mr Nesbitt said a situation could arise where a member of the public could pay in advance for a weekend break in the expectation that a voucher would cover part of the cost, only to discover afterwards that the scheme had run out. He added it could be more appropriate to reallocate the money to help households that cannot cope with rising energy bills over the winter.

Colum McLornan, co-owner of The Marine Hotel in Ballycastle, said he had hoped the Holiday at Home voucher scheme would have brought custom mid-week when rooms were otherwise under-occupied.

He added that customers were using their Spend Local vouchers at the hotel for meals, snacks and coffees, rather than for accommodation.