In a statement to the Assembly, the Minister said: “To date, over 1.024 million cards have been dispatched, over 580,000 of these have been activated. Over £26.5m has now been injected into our local economy. These are quite remarkable statistics and, while it is still early days, I think it is fair to say the process of recovery on our high streets is now under way.
“By the end of this week, cards will have been dispatched to at least 95% of applicants that we have been able to match on the information held on the databases. And by the middle of next week, cards will have been dispatched to all those verified to date.
“It remains the case that most people have four weeks to spend their card, but I recognise that this will not be the case for everyone.
“Therefore in order to offer these applicants a fair timescale to use their card, I can today announce that I am extending the deadline to use the Spend Local cards by two weeks - from 30 November to 14 December. I know this is something that MLAs have requested and I am happy to agree. This will mean that the vast majority of people will have at least four weeks to use their card.”
The Minister said that in order to maximise the benefit to our local businesses including retail, hospitality and service sectors, it is vitally important that everyone spends the full £100 on their Spend Local card. He said the extra two-week period will also allow card holders who have some balance left on their card, no matter how small, to spend it in local businesses.
He went on to say: “For anyone who has any balance left on their card, no matter how small, my message is: please go out and spend it locally. Buy a coffee, a breakfast, a newspaper or magazine, or even a small present for someone this Christmas. Maximise the Spend Local card. Every penny spent will help.
“The objective of the High Street Scheme is to stimulate recovery in our local businesses by encouraging increased spending rather than online. By extending the deadline to use the Spend Local card, we can encourage more people to purchase Christmas presents, Christmas decorations and even food for Christmas dinner in their local area rather than online.”
The Minister said he had consistently encouraged all card holders to use their Spend Local cards to support businesses in their local area that have been impacted by the pandemic.
He added: “I have been hugely encouraged by the level of engagement not only from the public, but also from our retail, hospitality and service sectors. Many local businesses – across all parts of Northern Ireland - have further incentivised spend in their premises by offering additional savings or rewards.
“By helping themselves in this way, they are also helping their staff, their suppliers and their neighbouring businesses. Spending a little, does have a big effect.”
The Minister concluded: “The journey to recovery for retail, hospitality and service sector has just begun and, as more and more people receive their Spend Local cards through their letterboxes daily, I would urge them to activate it as soon as they get it and then spend every single last penny on it.
“And finally, remember: please, please Spend Local.”