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This London council is handing out free £20 vouchers to spend in local shops and restaurants

·2-min read
One of the businesses seeing people come in to spend vouchers is independent bookshop Bookcase, which has been in operation in Chiswick since 1993  (Bookcase)
One of the businesses seeing people come in to spend vouchers is independent bookshop Bookcase, which has been in operation in Chiswick since 1993 (Bookcase)

Hounslow Council is handing out cash to spend inside local businesses after the borough’s economy was hammered by the pandemic hit to Heathrow.

Every home in the West London area has been sent a £20 "ShopLocal Voucher" to spend anywhere they like, with the exception of gambling outlets. More than 330 businesses have already registered to take part.

Pre-Covid Hounslow boasted the second-fastest growing local economy in London, with an economic output of over £13 billion per year. But many people living in the area and working at Heathrow lost jobs as airlines made redundancies after Covid hit, compounding the hit to local businesses from months shuttered.

Hounslow cabinet member for finance, Shantanu Rajawat, told the Standard lockdowns saw local business claims for council tax support soar by almost 60%.

The borough is facing a jobs crisis and "concentrated economic challenges", and over 900 business premises have closed since March 2020 despite Government support.

Cabinet member for finance, Shantanu Rajawat, hopes the scheme will help Hounslow  recover from the impact of the pandemic’s hit to Heathrow (Shantanu Rajawat)
Cabinet member for finance, Shantanu Rajawat, hopes the scheme will help Hounslow recover from the impact of the pandemic’s hit to Heathrow (Shantanu Rajawat)

Pre-Covid the airport had also driven growth in the distribution, transport and hospitality sectors, but Heathrow is yet to recover. By late August its stations were still seeing passenger levels at just a third of what they used to be before the pandemic.

Hounslow’s economy contracted by 11.3% in 2020 alone.

Rajawat said: "Heathrow is a massive impact on the borough... We'd got to a point where we were very concerned with the downturn in Heathrow and the increase in claims of council tax support and universal credit. We thought 'how do we energise local businesses and increase footfall?'"

The council is funding the scheme with a Government grant issued to help address the impact of the pandemic. Rajawat said no council tax funds will be directed towards the scheme.

It is being run with company Evouchers, which already helps the council issue free school meals vouchers. Retailers are paid by the council within seven days.

Vouchers can be spent in one go or in chunks, and drinks are included. Over 3,500 have been redeemed, and around £10,000 in vouchers is currently being spent every day.

Garden centres, cafes and takeaways the biggest beneficiaries in the scheme's first week. A single garden centre, Adrian Hall, has taken in £4,500.

Adam Bloom has run Bookcase London, an independent bookshop in Chiswick, for 29 years. He has taken over 30 vouchers in just five days.

He said: "To be honest with you, it's brilliant. The help it's given us is great, we've had quite a few already. And it's just the fact that a council wants to support local independent retailers. Everyone loves getting free money but the fact they can spend it at independent shops across the borough means they feel good twice.

"Hopefully we'll carry on ticking over and taking the vouchers."

The scheme runs until December 7.

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