High Street Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 2:00, 6 December 2021

4. Ms Bradshaw asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on the deadline for the use of the high street scheme Spend Local prepaid card. (AQO 2840/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

In my statement to the Assembly on 2 November 2021, I announced that I was to extend the deadline for people to use their Spend Local prepaid card from 30 November to 14 December. That provided a further two weeks for people to use their card. That will provide applicants, especially those who receive their card now, with a fairer timescale in which to use their card. It will also provide additional time for people who have already used their card to spend any remaining balance, no matter how small that may be, to support those businesses that were hit so hard by the pandemic. It remains the case that most people will have had at least four weeks to spend their card, but I recognise that that will not be the case for everyone.

To date, 1,399,877 cards have been dispatched, and 1,350,436 of those have been activated. As of today, over £115 million has been injected into our local economy. I have been very encouraged by the feedback from local businesses, Chambers of Commerce and trade representatives from all parts of Northern Ireland. They have been telling me how important the economic boost from the spend on the card has been and continues to be in helping them to recover from the severest impacts of the pandemic. I have encouraged and will continue to encourage everyone to fully spend their Spend Local prepaid card to support Northern Ireland's local businesses right up to the scheme's closing date.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 2:15, 6 December 2021

Thank you, Minister, for your response. Yes, some of the figures are very encouraging, but there remain some constituents of mine who have not yet received their card. I had correspondence from a constituent today who was advised on 26 November that his details had been verified, but, as of today, he has still not got his card. Minister, there are a lot of people who are relying on this £100, not least the people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. What will you do for the people who have not received their card? Will they be compensated?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I am sure that, like the Member, all other Members have constituents who are yet to receive their card. I am pleased that another 4,500 cards are being sent out today. We are now using a next-day delivery service to ensure that those are got out as quickly as possible. That is important, because it is in everybody's interests that they get their card, and it is in everybody's interests that they spend what is on it. MLAs are continuing to get in contact with the Department to assist those who have not yet received their card, and my Department remains ready to help those who need it.

Photo of Stephen Dunne Stephen Dunne DUP

Does the Minister believe that the scheme is delivering on its twin objectives of providing an economic stimulus for our high streets and reorienting people away from clicks to bricks?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I believe that it has done. We need only look at the figures on the uptake of the scheme and on the spend thus far. It has been very encouraging. As I said, I have spoken to chambers of commerce and local retailers right across Northern Ireland, and everybody is saying the same thing: that they are getting people into their shops, retail premises, entertainment facilities and leisure facilities who perhaps had not been in for a while and would not otherwise have come in if they had not had their card. That is great news, and I thank everybody who has been involved in the promotion of the scheme.

I know that Members across the House have been encouraging people to apply and to spend, and to spend locally, so the scheme is absolutely getting people out and giving a short-term economic boost. Nobody can doubt that. There is also some evidence to suggest that people are not only going once and spending their card but starting to come back again or being brought on to the high street to spend their card and then coming back because they have seen something in another shop. We had some really encouraging statistics towards the end of last week that showed that the footfall on Northern Ireland's high streets is significantly improved compared with that in the other regions of the UK: Scotland, England and Wales.

The scheme is therefore working for both objectives, but I encourage people to continue to spend and to make sure that they use everything that is on their card in order to give as much of a boost to the high street as we can.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

Like the Member who asked the original question, I have been dealing with scores and scores of people who have still not received their card. Just over a week out from the deadline, I hope that they receive it very soon.

Minister, one of the other issues about which there have been some concerns is that of people who applied for the card and received it but, for whatever reason, have not activated or used it. Can you provide some figures on the numbers of eligible people who have not applied for the card or who applied for and received it but have not activated it so far?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

We do not have a list of or figures for the number of people who were eligible to apply but did not. I think that we publicised the scheme very well. Our estimates suggest that in and around 1·4 million people in Northern Ireland were eligible and that in and around 1·4 million have applied, so there has been an exceptionally high uptake rate.

As I said earlier, 1,399,877 people have had their card sent to them, and 1,350,436 have had their card activated. There are therefore in and around 50,000 people who have not activated their card yet. I suppose that you do not need to activate your card until you spend it, but I encourage everybody to do that as soon as possible. Again, I encourage everybody to go out and make sure that what is on the card is spent before the deadline and for everybody to spend not only some of it but everything that is on it. Last week, on average, there was £17 left on every card, and today that is £11. People are using it up, but I encourage everybody to do so before the deadline.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I put on my record my thanks to the Minister's Department for the swift way in which it is has been responding to our offices. It has been very useful and, on many occasions, quite swift. This week, reference was made to the fact that 3,000 phone calls relating to concerns around the scheme are made to the Department each day. Aside from the cost of the cards themselves, what is the actual overall cost of administering the scheme?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I do not have that information. I know that it exists, but I do not have it in front of me. I am more than happy to provide that information to the Member in writing. I hope that he understands that I do not have all of that here.