Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has announced the contract for the delivery of the High Street Scheme (HSS) has been awarded to Prepaid Financial Services (PFS).
The £145million scheme will give everyone aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend on their local high street. It is planned that the registration process will open to the public in September.
Minister Lyons also today revealed the ‘Spend Local’ logo which will feature on each of the cards.
Speaking during a visit to businesses in Carrickfergus, the Minister said: “After a robust procurement process, I am pleased to announce that the contract for the High Street Scheme has been awarded to PFS.
“This scheme is a key element of my Department’s Economic Recovery Action Plan and will give a very welcome boost to our high streets which were hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. This uplift is what our local businesses need and deserve.
“It will mean up to 1.4 million people will have an extra £100 each to spend on our high streets rather than online. This will help bring many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality and other sectors.
“I look forward to seeing the benefits this scheme will bring to the wide range of businesses situated in the heart of towns, villages and cities across Northern Ireland.”
PFS is a payments technology company which helps governments worldwide get money quickly into the hands of people who need it the most. Most recently, citizens in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Italy and Finland have been assisted with innovative payment solutions across 562 separate initiatives.
Lee Britton, CEO Europe at PFS, said: ''We are delighted to have been awarded this contract. Our award-winning economic stimulus product trusted by governments worldwide will help to give a huge financial boost to the Northern Ireland economy.”
Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, said: “Hospitality businesses are an integral part of our city, town and village high streets and have suffered considerably due to the impact of Covid. The High Street Scheme is a really welcome and important way we can all support our struggling high street businesses.
“Supporting the high street not only helps the businesses, it also supports the jobs of our friends and family who work in our hospitality industry.”
Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “The past year has been one of the hardest on record for our retail industry and our high streets because of the pandemic. This scheme will give a welcome boost to high street retailers and other consumer-facing sectors in towns and cities in Northern Ireland. It will create a virtuous circle of spending that supports our economy, boosts local commerce and gives our shoppers some retail and hospitality therapy. We would encourage everyone who is eligible to register for the scheme and make every penny count.”
Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This scheme is a win-win for our members and our high streets. It will be a significant spending boost for struggling independent retailers as we progress the long road toward recovery.
“70p in every pound spent with an independent retailer is recycled around the economy, supporting local producers, farmers and manufacturers. So it is vital that consumers make a special effort to spend this pre-paid card with local traders to ensure the widest possible boost to our economy.”
Roger Pollen, Head of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) NI, said: “This scheme is a key element in reinvigorating our retail and hospitality sectors after more than a year of crippling restrictions and downturn. What is particularly important is the simplicity of its operation and the widespread distribution.
“By empowering every adult consumer in Northern Ireland, the value of the spend will reach every community and sector. We would urge users of the scheme to consider those businesses that have been most impacted by the pandemic and use their pre-paid card where it can spread most benefit.”
Minister Lyons added: “My Department is planning for the scheme to go live in September and I want to ensure everyone who is eligible can receive their pre-paid card as soon as possible after registration. As a first step in that process I would urge members of the public to sign up for the electoral register if they have not already done so as we plan to use the register to check registrations for the High Street Scheme.”
The Minister also today published research carried out by Retail Economics to inform the roll-out of the High Street Scheme.
Retail Economics carried out research on how, when and where the HSS scheme could impact on consumer spending. The researchers made use of outturn data from a similar scheme which operated in Jersey and information from the Office for National Statistics. A consumer panel survey was also conducted, reflecting a nationally representative sample of 1,000 households in Northern Ireland.
Minister Lyons said: “Currently, we intend to roll out the High Street Scheme in the autumn. This aligns well to Retail Economics’ recommendations on optimal timing.
“The results of the consumer panel show that there is evidence that the scheme will encourage shoppers back on the high street, to support local independent businesses and to spend their card in those sectors that have faced difficulties trading in the past year. Many respondents considered that it would encourage them to visit physical locations.
“The Covid health restrictions will need to be monitored closely and taken into account as we move forward.”