A DISCOUNT gift card aimed at encouraging Argyll and Bute residents to support local business has been greeted with "dismay" in Helensburgh, according to a councillor for the town.

The Argyll and Bute version of the Scotland Loves Local gift card was launched in the area in 2021.

Burgh councillor Fiona Howard (Labour, Helensburgh Central) says the scheme has sparked "resentment" in the town because it has come to be seen as more of a "benefit card" - and because it can be spent at local branches of national chains, such as the Co-op, not just with locally-owned independent businesses.

But the Argyll and Bute councillor in charge of economic growth in the area branded Cllr Howard's comments "insulting".

The discussion took place at a full council meeting on Thursday, April 27, where Councillor Redman - an independent for the Kintyre and the Islands ward - reported that nearly 300 business in Argyll and Bute accepted the card.

His ward colleague, SNP councillor Dougie McFadzean, had asked: “Are you aware of the growing animosity from small independent businesses about the likes of the Co-op and Morrisons signing up to the scheme? What are you going to do to put their minds at rest?”

Councillor Redman said: “It is worth pointing out that the criteria for these cards is not necessarily set by Argyll and Bute Council, and the criteria is that the businesses must be local.

“But small businesses are rightly concerned. A lot of people want as many avenues as possible to spend these cards, and if you are on a limited income, it pays to have as many places as possible to get your goods.

“If your income is limited, you are probably going to get as much food as you can for your money. It is people’s money, and it is for them to spend where they decide.”

Councillor Howard then said: “Originally the Love Local card was a great card which was a great benefit to local businesses. Now it is looked at as a benefit card, because it was used to hand out money during and after Covid.

“Has any survey been done on where this money is being spent? And have businesses been consulted on how they see it operating?

“This is where the real resentment is, because it is now looked at as a benefit card and not such an attractive gift.”

Councillor Redman said: “Coming from a humble background myself, I take some issue on it being an undesirable product. It can be a gift card and a benefit to help those who are struggling.

“There should be no stigma to those who have received these cards. Those who can get them should come forward, get them and use them.

"The reception from small businesses and individuals has been immensely positive.”

Councillor Howard responded: “It is a fact this card is looked at now as something slightly devalued. I certainly would not be buying it as a gift.

“It has been devalued, and small businesses and gift shops see it that way. Something needs done to alter their perception.”

Councillor Redman said: “The notion that because something is used to support struggling families and individuals, it devalues and tarnishes that card, I see as, perhaps inadvertently, insulting.

"These cards are not devalued in any way and I think it has enhanced them.”

Councillor Howard’s ward colleague, Liberal Democrat Councillor Graham Hardie, said: “You often see adverts in Helensburgh shop windows saying that the gift card is welcome there, so I am not sure where Councillor Howard gets her information from.”

Councillor Howard then added: “I am not criticising the fact that these cards are being used as a benefit. I am also not from a very wealthy background.

“What I am saying is that a lot of small businesses I have spoken to feel it has tarnished the card.

"Ask all of the small businesses signed up how they see it going. Then we can answer whether it has been tarnished or not.

“In the meantime, there should be a really positive publicity campaign for the card.

"I am not saying poor people should not use it - that would be ridiculous. What I am saying is that we need to look at how it is looked at, and in my ward, it is looked at with dismay. We need to check that out.

“It is a gift card and a benefit card. That cannot be changed. But the way people look at it can be changed.”