An inquiry into the efficiency and effectiveness of the ChooseCBR voucher scheme has revealed that while there were some faults in its management, it was overall an effective way to have stimulated the ACT’s post-lockdown economy.
While the review noted that had more assessment of the web-based application been undertaken, technical issues may have been unearthed, it later conceded this additional testing may not have actually exposed these weaknesses.
It also could not find any proof of “systemic misuse” of the program.
The ACT Government initially committed to the independent review – conducted by David Butler Consulting – in June 2021 after facing backlash from the ACT Opposition when the full $2 million in vouchers was exhausted just 24 hours after it was relaunched.
The review highlighted some of the scheme’s strengths. As well as delivering effective stimulus to the economy, it noted that key learnings and insights had been gained from an initial trial of the program.
Despite this, “the issue of performance of the web-based system should have been given closer attention”.
The rollout of the vouchers had been plagued by technical issues such as the website crashing repeatedly.
In fact, the scheme was forced to remain offline for more than a week after the website crashed on the first day it went live, on 9 June, 2021.
The review attributed slowness and inefficiency to the actual structure and design of the database itself.
But the review couldn’t determine if this could have been avoided.
“It would have been difficult to predict the demand received, which was well above what was experienced during the trial, and then replicate this in a performance and load testing environment,” the report read.
“At the very least, however, greater curiosity about what happened during the pilot and an examination of what this may mean for the robustness of the database should have been undertaken.”
The ACT Opposition also expressed concerns about “questionable transactions” given the speed at which the vouchers were used up.
Of the top 100 businesses to benefit from the scheme, Daily Market City & Gungahlin topped the list, receiving 3.3 per cent of all vouchers redeemed.
Almost 40 per cent of the vouchers were claimed at stores such as grocers, while more than one in four were redeemed at cafes, restaurants and takeaway shops.
Yet the review noted that spot-checking of businesses had occurred, and they had been required to provide evidence of a representative number of transactions.
“Further, there was follow-up checking of businesses which had redeemed higher numbers of vouchers, or where there were unusual patterns of redemption,” read the report.
“From the scrutiny undertaken of claims made during the rollout, there is no evidence of systemic misuse of the scheme by businesses or participants.”
The review noted that overall more than 30,000 Canberrans were able to receive discounts, more than 85,000 discounts were redeemed, and close to 800 small businesses benefitted.
Across the two days of 18-19 June alone, $4 million dollars was spent in transactions where the vouchers were redeemed.
The total amount spent during the trial and the rollout when digital vouchers were redeemed was more than $7 million.
ACT Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne, who previously defended the rollout of the scheme, tabled the review in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 2 December.
“The rollout was not smooth,” she said. “We recognise and accept that and fully accept the recommendations in the review.
“But the scheme did achieve its aim in stimulating spending with local businesses and supporting them through a difficult time.”