Economy Minister Gordon Lyons urges patience over Northern Ireland high street voucher scheme opening

The Economy Minister has urged patience over Stormont’s high street voucher scheme, insisting details around its opening will be announced within days.

Gordon Lyons made clear the Covid-19 economic stimulus scheme, which will see all adult householders receive £100 to spend in shops within Northern Ireland, had not been delayed.

The minister said he and his officials were making sure it was rolled out in the “right and proper way”.

He suggested some people had confused the date of legislation coming into force to enable the scheme, which happened on Sunday, and the date of it opening for applications.

Carmel Flanagan with her daughter Ella Copper shopping in the Joules in Belfast while wearing a face mask as face coverings are now compulsory for shoppers in Northern Ireland

“In regards to the high street scheme, I hope that everyone can be a little bit patient for another day or two,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to making an announcement on that very, very soon.

“I know there’s a lot of excitement out there, people are looking forward to spending their cards, and I’m looking forward to them getting out there as well so we can give that real boost to our economy in the short term and also, hopefully, change behaviours and bring people back into the high street in the long term as well.”

Mr Lyons was asked about the scheme as he attended a jobs announcement in Belfast on Monday.

Pressed on whether the scheme had been delayed, Mr Lyons replied: “It was always the intention that it would come out in September time.

“I wanted to make sure that the necessary legislation was in place and that is now in place as of yesterday.

“But we need to make sure that this is done in the right and proper way.

“We want to make sure that whenever the portal opens, that people are able to get onto it and log on to it.

“So that work is continuing.

“I hope to be able to make an announcement in the very near future about that.

“In the meantime, I would encourage people to think about how they can spend their prepaid cards in order to help boost the local economy and help those businesses that have struggled for so long.”

He continued: “I think some people have got mixed up the dates in terms of the legislative basis for the scheme to proceed and the date when the portal itself is going to open.

“So in the very near future, I hope to give people an indication of how this is all going to work, the exact time for the portal to be open, the website that people will need to log on to, and the process in terms of getting those applications verified, and also then when the cards can go out and when the cards can be spent.

“I hope to give that information in the very near future, so that we can give that certainty as well to businesses, because I know a lot of businesses want to help incentivise the use of the card in local independent stores.

“And I want to give that and that will be coming very, very soon.”

Mr Lyons said householders were able to spend their voucher with any retailer that had a physical presence in the region.

However, he encouraged people to consider spending the prepaid cards in local independent retailers rather than with multinationals.