Colin Munro is the managing director of fintech Miconex, a supplier on Crown Commercial Service’s new £1.5 billion Voucher Schemes Framework.

GlobalData estimates that the UK gift voucher/card market was worth close to £7billion in 2019, 67% from consumer sales and 33% from rewards schemes and incentives. The consumer gift card market is pivotal to the recovery of our towns and cities, particularly in the post pandemic world, but as our world view evolves, so too does our appreciation and understanding of how gift cards can be used to aid recovery for individuals, businesses, places and communities.

Over the past five years, Miconex has developed an award winning gift card/voucher programme, Town and City Gift Cards, which gives the end user the opportunity to choose where to spend their gift card across a predetermined range of local businesses. Working like local currency, Town and City Gift Cards encourage local shopping and spending, embedding the ‘love local’ message into the local community. As there are no fees for businesses to accept the gift card, it is attractive and accessible for local and national merchants of all sizes, from a small local café to big high street names and supermarkets, meaning places can provide support to a wide range of local businesses.

In 2020, over £1.9 million was spent through Town and City Gift Card schemes, in large cities as well as small towns, even islands and rural communities, showing the demand for local, multi-venue gift card programmes. Based in Perth, Scotland, Miconex expanded into Canada and North America in 2020, working alongside EML Payments on a number of Downtown Gift Card programmes, and a federal funds disbursement initiative.

The unique nature of the Town and City Gift Cards scheme makes it ideal for local authorities to adopt and promote, because it engages local people to spend in local businesses. In 2021, there are over 60 Town and City Gift Card schemes in the UK and Ireland and over 10,000 registered UK merchants, making it the largest closed voucher network in the UK. Today, these 60 plus places are evolving how they use their gift card schemes, beyond traditional consumer gift card sales, to everything from care packages for those in need to school meal voucher schemes.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme heralded a variety of voucher schemes around the country, including vouchers for vulnerable children to buy winter clothes, food vouchers for families in emergency accommodation and supermarket shopping vouchers for families in need during the festive season. Yet some local authorities took this one step further, with local gift cards, in effect creating a circular economy of benefit to not only people, but businesses, communities and places.

Indeed, Miconex worked alongside East Ayrshire Council on a disbursement of funds initiative in Scotland whereby East Ayrshire Gift Cards were distributed to local families by East Ayrshire Council as part of a support care package campaign. Using local gift cards in this way over the Christmas and Easter periods enabled families to redeem the disbursed funds with dignity at over 170 participating businesses in the area, from family owned businesses to national retailers and brands. The most popular places for redemption included local grocers, butchers, clothing stores and toy shops. During a time of increased free school meal claims, the funds disbursement through their local gift card ensured families in need were able to buy school uniform or food for their Christmas dinner.

The East Ayrshire Gift Card was also used by the local authority to support students experiencing financial hardship. By using the same gift card that consumers can buy, there were no differentiating features to mark out those receiving hardship payments or disbursed funds, ensuring the gift cards could be used by individuals without worry or embarrassment. Other innovative uses of their local gift card for East Ayrshire include it being a prize within their housing department’s garden competition for housing tenants. In East Ayrshire, they have built on the idea of traditional consumer sales with diverse use cases for their local gift card.

The many and varied uses of local gift vouchers/cards, to keep money locked into an area supporting local businesses, local jobs and employment, but also in disbursement initiatives, for hardship payments, for reward and recognition programmes and even as incentives for competitions or surveys was our driver to apply to, and gain acceptance onto, Crown Commercial Service’s new Voucher Schemes Framework.

In buying through the Voucher Schemes Framework, a multi-supplier framework, central government and public sector bodies are able to achieve maximum commercial value when procuring common goods and services. Local authorities and other organisations can visit our new on-line portal, read our prospectus and case studies for places like East Ayrshire and make specific digital closed loop gift voucher/card orders with us. In purchasing through the CCS Voucher Schemes Framework, there is the flexibility and familiarity that public sector buyers require in a fully managed service tailored to their specific needs.

From Aberdeen to the Isle of Wight, Ballinrobe to Scarborough, we have witnessed just the start of what can be achieved with local gift cards. Harnessing the power of local gift cards, we can better support people, places and businesses and make ‘love local’ a sentiment that truly delivers for communities.