Clear messaging needed on voucher scheme
A start date for the long-awaited high street voucher scheme was unveiled yesterday, ten months after the initiative was first announced.
It was November last year when then economy minister Diane Dodds provided information about the £145 million scheme, which would see every adult in Northern Ireland given £100 to spend in local businesses, which have been severely hit by the pandemic.
Hopes that the vouchers could be rolled out in January were derailed by the spike in Covid cases which resulted in another lockdown.
Current minister Gordon Lyons, who replaced Mrs Dodds during a period of turmoil in the DUP, has now set out details on how the pre-paid card system will work.
We are told that applications will open online from September 27 with the first tranche of cards issued in the week beginning October 4. Information will be checked against a number of government databases to verify identity.
People are asked to apply through the NI Direct website and provide their name, address, age, gender, disability status, National Insurance number, email address and telephone number.
The minister said a phone service will open on October 11 for those who cannot access the online system and the cards can be used until November 30, when the scheme closes.
There is no doubt a wholesale plan to give every single adult in the north £100 to spend is unlikely to exist in any circumstances other than a pandemic which, as we know, has caused devastation in significant parts of the economy.
We are in exceptional times and this scheme is being seen as a way to boost the local retail and hospitality sector.
It will also be welcomed by the wider public, particularly at a time when energy and other bills are rising and a national insurance hike is on the horizon.
Having waited so long for the much-anticipated scheme to open, there will be an expectation that its operation will be smooth-running.
Mr Lyons did flag up the likelihood that demand will be high in the early stages.
However, it is essential that the public does not experience undue delay in receiving the cards and there also needs to be clear messaging about how this money can be used.