The High Street Scheme, which opened on 27 September, will close at midnight on Sunday (December 19) when cards will no longer be valid.
The Minister said: “This weekend is your last chance to use your Spend Local card. But in the few days we have left, there is time for one more spending drive. The majority of people have already used their cards to support local businesses but there are still people out there with their £100 ready to spend, and most of these are young people. If you're 18-34 and still have your £100 what are you going to spend it on this weekend?
“Make sure you get out there and use it, or you'll lose it.
“If you still haven’t used your Spend Local card, do it today. If you have any balance remaining on your card – no matter how small – go out and buy a newspaper, a coffee, a Christmas card, or whatever you want, but please spend your card to the limit today.
“And if you wanted to add some of your own money to make a bigger purchase, all the better.”
The positive impact of the scheme has been felt widely across the business community – with over £131million already injected into the local economy. Both the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and the Ulster Bank have credited an increase in retail sales to the scheme.
The Minster added: “The objective of the scheme was to support our retail, hospitality and service sectors. We believed the Spend Local card was the best way to help these businesses to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic. I am delighted to say that the scheme has been a success.
“But don’t just take my word for it. The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and the UIster Bank have both credited the scheme with boosting our high streets.”
Businesses across Northern Ireland have welcomed the scheme and are also encouraging the public to use their card in full before the closing date.
Belfast city centre’s Fine Tailoring by Red Managing Director Jamesy McCreesh said: “The High Street Scheme in my opinion was a great idea. Anything that gives a boost to small independent businesses is welcomed and it’s a scheme that has brought much needed funds back into the local economy and helped small businesses within Belfast city centre.”
Danni Simpson, owner of Danni Simpson Art, is also calling on the public to support local businesses. She said: “The High Street Scheme gives the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to support independent small businesses like myself. By shopping small you are making big dreams happen. I will be accepting the Spend Local card in my stall at the Belfast Continental Christmas Market.”
The Minister concluded: “I have always said that the best way to support those businesses which were hit hardest by the pandemic is to spend every penny on every card. So as we reach the last weekend of the scheme, I want to thank everyone who has already used their Spend Local card.
“And to those who still have to use all of their card, time has nearly run out. So, please, spend it now, spend it all and spend it local.
The Minister also reminded cardholders that as well as spending local, they can also support businesses through shopping safely by wearing a face covering, maintaining social distancing and using contactless payment where possible.
There is a small proportion of the cards sent in the closing days of the scheme which may still be in the postal system. These applications included errors or were from those who did not respond to requests for information in the scheme’s application and verification time period. They were included because the Department wanted to ensure the most amount of people could support local businesses and was therefore verifying applications up to the very last minute.
The Department is closely monitoring this cohort of cards and will ensure these applicants do not miss out due to postal delays.
The Department appreciates that there may be some verified applicants who will not receive their Spend Local Card before the scheme closes or who have experienced problems using their card. After the scheme closes, the Department will take stock of the various issues people have faced and options for remedy.