HELENSBURGH businesses have slammed a decision to allow the gift card meant to encourage local spending being diverted to national food chains.

The Scotland Loves Local gift card originally allowed residents to add funds to be used at more than 250 businesses across Argyll and Bute.

Then Argyll and Bute Council put £120 on each of 6,500 cards sent to households across the area.

Now local firms have learned food giants Morrisons and Farm Foods are signed up.

Although that allows residents to spend the £120 on food at a time of a cost-of-living crisis for many, High Street firms said the council cash was meant to aid Covid recovery, not direct money out of the area.

Council officials, however, doubled down on the decision and said they were helping low income families.

'Diverting to supermarkets'

Toni Taylor, owner of The Olde Christmas Shoppe said: “I was asked to be an ambassador for this card and now they have taken it all away. Morrisons is going to get the money.

“I’m not saying it won’t benefit local families. But the council has turned an economic fund for local businesses into a benefit spend for families. Nobody will benefit on the High Street.

“We had our find spend on the card this week in the shop and we are not going to feel it.

“It’s £800,000 that should have supported local business. They have diverted the money to supermarkets. That £120 on the High Street would have stayed on the High Street ... until they allowed the supermarkets to sign up. I think someone wasn’t thinking.”

The £798,960 spread across the thousands of cards is from the £1.48 million Covid Economic Recovery Funding given to the council by the Scottish Government. Any household given a council tax reduction this year is eligible for the £120 card.

Vivien Dance, of Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said: “Sure, there will be a mixed reaction to this with many people being grateful that they can buy much needed food and groceries on the card, but it just seems to go against the grain of Love Localy.

Urge review

“It is another blow on top of many that smaller businesses are dealing with just now.”

MSP Jackie Baillie said: “It is really disappointing to hear that major companies are benefitting from a scheme which was aimed at helping local businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic.

“Large food retailers did not lose out during Covid lockdowns as they remained opened throughout while independent traders were forced to shut with no or little income for a prolonged period.

“I would urge Argyll and Bute Council to review this so that businesses who have been badly affected over the past two and a half years can benefit from this support.”

But a council spokeswoman said: “The Argyll and Bute gift card offers recipients over 250 businesses to choose where they spend. The majority of these businesses are independent and benefit from the scheme, that aims to support ongoing economic recovery and encourage local spending.

“Under the Scotland Loves Local Scheme, national chains have always been able to register as long as they have a local presence.

“At the same time, as the cost of living crisis continues, we are helping low income households to access essentials including food, clothing and medical supplies. To do this, it is vital to have food businesses on the scheme.”