High Street Voucher Scheme: Delay

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 20th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 20th September 2021

T6. Mr McGlone asked the Minister for the Economy — after putting firmly on the record the fact that, on different occasions, the Minister and members of his party have voiced their concerns to him about the Brexit that they championed and advocated — to explain the reasons for the two-week delay to the launch of the high street voucher scheme. (AQT 1576/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I am not quite sure what the Member is referring to. It was always our intention that the scheme would roll out in September time. He is probably thinking of the date on which the legislation came into force — 12 September — to allow the scheme to proceed. That legislation needed to be in there. A number of other elected representatives have raised the point that there was a two-week delay. No; the legislation came in on 12 September. It was never announced that it was going to start on that date. We said that we would launch it in September. I am pleased that it will be operational this month. That means that the spend will take place during that key period of October and November, and it will, hopefully, reorientate people from online to the high street in time for Christmas.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

My apologies if I misinterpreted the media briefings that were readily and often put out by different media outlets. If that is the case, that is the case.

On the practicalities, many older people who are not just as computer-literate and many people with learning disabilities will not be able to do the detailed computer work that is required for the scheme. Can you give us an assurance that there will be adequate telephony responders to help and facilitate those people to make their claims? Over the last year and a half in particular, many of us have had difficulty getting through on telephones, let alone via emails or on websites.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP 3:30 pm, 20th September 2021

I am sorry to break it to the Member, but the media do not always get it right. Maybe that is a lesson that the Member has learned today.

I understand the concerns that have been expressed about perhaps older or more vulnerable people in our society. However, I am always reluctant to say that it is older people who have problems with the technology, because many of them are very tech-savvy. Family and friends can also help, and I think that that is very important. You as a Member will be able to do it for constituents who are not able to do it themselves. In addition to that, there will be a telephone service. I hope that, by people either using the internet themselves, getting a friend, family member or representative to help them, or using the telephone service, everyone who is eligible will be able to get their card. I certainly will do all that I can to make sure that that is facilitated.