High street

A scheme to give every person over the age of 18 a £100 voucher to be used on their local high street has been welcomed.

The scheme, announced by Economy Minister Diane Dodds, is designed to stimulate local businesses, including retail and hospitality sector outlets, following the pandemic.

The Minister explained that eligible individuals aged 18 and over will be asked to apply for the pre-paid card through a dedicated online portal. The card must be used in ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses within Northern Ireland and cannot be used online. The Minister also revealed that, if conditions are right, the High Street Stimulus (HSS) scheme will open at the end of the summer.

The Minister said: “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.

“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 £100. This means up to 1.4 million people will spend an extra £140m 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.”

The announcement has led to calls for similar schemes to be rolled out in other parts of the UK. The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) called for England, Wales and Scotland to follow suit to encourage high street spending.

Bira CEO Andrew Goodacre, said: “This is an excellent scheme to increase spending in local communities and we would now like to see England, Scotland and Wales follow with a similar initiative.

“Last summer, the hospitality industry had the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, now the independent retail sector needs the same support in a Shop Out to Help Out initiative.”