Call for Stormont to introduce voucher scheme for struggling businesses

Belfast City Centre. Picture by Mal McCann.
Michael McHugh, PA

Stormont should introduce a voucher scheme for people to spend in struggling local businesses, Belfast Chamber has said.

Footfall will be down for some time and firms will start incurring costs as they reopen without the level of custom they would ordinarily expect, the traders' body added.

Retailers have been severely impacted by restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: "Whilst it is brilliant to see places like Belfast city centre reopening with shops, bars, restaurants, cafes and hotels all trading again, it is clear that footfall is going to be down for some time to come.

"As businesses reopen they will start incurring costs again but without the levels of custom they would ordinarily expect and that will place many under pressure."

He said other cities and states have tried to address this issue in a very direct way by giving citizens vouchers to spend in hard-hit sectors such as retail and hospitality.

Vienna gave every household €50 to spend in local cafes and restaurants.

Malta and the Chinese city of Wuhan have done something similar, Mr Hamilton said.

He added: "With press reports that the Chancellor is considering a voucher scheme, the Northern Ireland Executive must ensure that if the Government does take such a step then Northern Ireland is either included or follows suit and introduces its own voucher scheme.

"There is no doubt that a voucher scheme would bring a much-needed boost for our retail and hospitality businesses."

Many of them have been closed for nearly four months.

Mr Hamilton added: "Footfall will continue to be challenged.

"By incentivising spending, a voucher scheme would get help to the businesses that need it most and sustain jobs in the process."

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