Adults in Northern Ireland are receiving free vouchers as part of a £ 145million plan to revive shopping streets marked by lockdown closures.
Gordon Lyons, the country’s economy minister, said anyone aged 18 and over would be eligible to receive a prepaid card to spend at local stores and restaurants.
“That would mean up to 1.4 million people would have an extra £ 100 each to spend on our main streets rather than online,” Lyons said. “This increase was what our local businesses needed and deserved… to bring many more customers back to their doors.”
The program, which starts in September, is based on similar initiatives in Jersey and Malta and is a “helicopter money” policy, a term used by economists to describe the distribution of money to households to stimulate spending. The US government also handed out $ 1,400 stimulus checks as part of its response to Covid.
Since last year, the Resolution Foundation, the influential think tank, has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to consider handing out vouchers to UK buyers. The British Independent Retailers Association is among those supporting a petition calling for a ‘shop to help’ program to help retailers get back on their feet.
Sunak, however, believes there is sufficient financial firepower for consumer spending after UK households amassed savings worth nearly £ 200bn during the lockdown.
Brick-and-mortar retailers struggled to make ends meet before the health crisis as fewer shoppers visited their local parades and malls and business rates rose. The lockdowns then accelerated the movement towards online shopping.
Retail NI, the trade body that represents independent retailers, has described the voucher system as a “win-win for members and our shopping streets”.
“This will be a significant increase in spending for struggling independent retailers as we move forward on the long road to recovery,” said Glyn Roberts, its managing director. He said 70 pence for every pound spent in an independent store is recycled back into the economy, supporting local producers, farmers and manufacturers.
“It is vital that consumers make a special effort to spend this prepaid card at local merchants in order to ensure the greatest possible boost to our economy,” he said.
Prepaid card applications will be checked against the electoral register, and Lyon urged adults who were not registered to vote to do so now.
The decision to launch the card in September was based on research that indicated fall was the best time to boost spending in downtown areas.
“The results of the consumer panel showed that there is evidence that the program will encourage shoppers to return to main street, support local independent businesses and spend their cards in areas that have had difficulty negotiating the ticket. last year, ”Lyons said. Many respondents said it would encourage them to visit physical places.