‘What is point of giving public free £100 just to spend on weekly Tesco run?’
A leading economist has voiced concern that the £100 voucher cards which the government is planning to hand out to the public could just end up being spent in giant out-of-town supermarkets.
Dr Esmond Birnie of Ulster University said that whilst the notion behind giving shoppers free money is “very laudable”, it may not work as intended.
The scheme was announced back in April by the then-economy minister Diane Dodds
And this week her replacement Gordon Lyons said it will be up and running by September.
The whole idea behind the scheme is that people will spend the free £100 with businesses on their local high streets.
But Dr Birnie said “the only major restriction” placed on how the cards can be used appears to be that the money cannot be spent online.
So,in practice, some of the £140m being provided “will actually be used not to fund genuinely additional spending on the high street” but instead will merely go towards “regular spending which would have happened in any case”.
For example, this could mean that the money ends up going on a regular weekly food shop, spent in a gigantic out-of-town store run by a retail multinational.
Citing a similar scheme in Jersey, Dr Birnie said about £10m was provided to the public, “but £2.2m was spent in supermarkets and further considerable sums were spent on fairly standard household bills”.
He concluded: “Such experience suggests that the actual addition to spending will be quite a bit less than £140m.”
The Department for the Economy said: “The scheme is designed to stimulate demand in local businesses, including retail and hospitality sector outlets, following the pandemic.
“The scheme is designed to be as simple for the public to use as possible.
“It is therefore the intent that the card could only be used in ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses within Northern Ireland and not used to purchase goods or services online.
“People will be able to use the pre-paid card in shops and businesses in a similar way that debit and credit cards are used – therefore if a business can accept debit and credit cards for payment then it will be able to accept the High Street Scheme card.”
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