Under an initiative inspired by a similar scheme in Jersey, the plan by Stormont’s Department for the Economy is that pre-paid cards given to people here will be spent in shops, restaurants and hotels at the start of next year.
However, details of the scheme to boost businesses in what is traditionally the toughest time of the year are as yet unknown and officials are working on how to use the £95m allocated by Finance Minister Conor Murphy for the scheme.
Stormont has already come under fire for handing over millions of pounds to businesses and even political party offices that should not have benefited from Covid support schemes.
SDLP economy spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin, the deputy chair of Stormont’s finance committee, has called for the voucher scheme to be used to support local independent retailers.
She said: “It is essential that the newly announced retail voucher scheme is used to support local independent businesses, not large supermarket groups, the internet giants and other multinationals that have increased turnover during the pandemic.
“It would be wrong to provide support to those who don’t need it, rather than the independent businesses that are struggling and on their knees.”
The economy committee will hear evidence on Wednesday from experts on Jersey’s retail voucher scheme worked and hear advice on how one here could operate.
“I want my concerns to be addressed about how our scheme can be structured to ensure the support goes to the right retailers, those that are independent and locally owned.
“I fear that may be difficult to achieve, but it is essential that the Department for the Economy gets this right.”
Meanwhile, 100 high street travel agent shops face “extinction”, their industry body here has warned.
Commissions already earned on forward bookings were repaid and staff still had to be paid while earnings during the pandemic plunged.
The Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents (Anita) said rent and mortgage payments, electricity and telephone bills all stayed the same while earnings plunged.
Travel agents recently met the First and Deputy First ministers and finance ministers. They requested a tailored financial support package.
The association said: “We need a six-month extension to the rates relief for our high street premises.
“We also need a cash grant to help with ongoing bills and simply to keep us in a position to keep trading.
“Our businesses have effectively been forced to close but we have enjoyed none of the support that the hospitality sector, along with taxi and coach companies have been promised.”