By Kristy Dorsey

Four major retail chains have signed on to an expanding gift card scheme designed to support local economies across Scotland.

Customers will be able to spend Scotland Loves Local gift cards in Marks & Spencer, Boots, Primark and schuh stores in their communities as part of what the scheme’s backers describe as a “new local currency”. It comes as the campaign, led by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), expands from its existing 17 town and city gift card programmes into all of the country’s 32 local authority areas.

Launch costs for the Scotland-wide rollout are being met by the Scottish Government. Businesses ranging from small independent shops and restaurants up to major retailers and visitor attractions are being encouraged to join.

Phil Prentice, chief officer of the STP, said the fresh support from these high-profile retail chains is a “significant show of confidence” in the programme.

HeraldScotland: Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland's Towns PartnershipPhil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland's Towns Partnership

“It also shows the strength of commitment these stores – and others – have for the communities in which they operate, creating another way in which local people can spend with them,” he added.

“The Scotland Loves Local gift cards will allow people to enjoy the very best their area has to offer, choosing local first. That’s vital for every community. If we are to create a better future for past-pandemic Scotland, we need to think local to support the people, businesses and jobs around us.”

Each card can only be spent in the region for which it is branded. Cards will become available to customers following a series of local launches expected to take place in the coming months.

Registering to accept the gift cards is free. The only requirement for businesses signing up is that they must have a physical presence in the region where they are registering.

READ MORE: SNP finance chief Kate Forbes urged to step in as 20,000 small firms collapse during pandemic

STP is working with Perth-based fintech Miconex, which already operates gift card programmes in the UK, Ireland and North America, to deliver the Scotland Loves Local scheme.

“Collaboration is the key to success here,” Miconex managing director Colin Munro said. “By working together we can create an unbeatable customer proposition and start to divert more and more money back into Scottish businesses.”

The expansion comes on the heels of figures released yesterday by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which show that 20,000 Scottish firms have gone bust so far during the course of the pandemic.

FSB policy chairman Andrew McRae said there was "no doubt" lockdown restrictions have taken "a huge toll on local firms and the self-employed". His organisation is calling on Scottish Government support for the sector's recovery when Finance Secretary Kate Forbes presents her Budget on Thursday.