Bacta presents the industry’s post-Covid-19 needs

Bacta John White industry’s post-Covid-19
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Bacta lodged its post-coronavirus requirements to government last week. Coinslot includes extracts from the association’s paper entitled: ‘Returning the FUN to Britain’s high streets and seaside towns – A plan to get the amusement machine sector back to work’

 

IMPACT OF COVID-19

2.1 The impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been sudden, dramatic and business critical. As of the 20th March, all sectors of the industry saw their income stop. Without government support, many businesses will have already been history.

2.2 Costs, even with Government help and drastic cost cutting, continue. Staff and property costs, utilities and communications, maintenance and security, insurance all continue to accrue. A rough estimate puts those costs at between 45% to 55% of normal, creating a serious and troubling burn rate on cash reserves that is obviously unsustainable even for those who have healthy balance sheets. Supply chain cooperation can help with payment schedules but ultimately bills have to be paid. Clearly, the longer businesses are not operational the less sustainable this becomes for everyone in the supply chain.

2.5 There is a danger that in not supporting the supply chain we will see a number of business failures. This has implications for the recovery of the sector. It would be a disaster if those B2C business that made it through the crisis were then to fall over because their suppliers weren’t there to meet customer demand, not to say a waste of the money spent to help them survive.

2.6 Even companies that do get rates relief and grants, the later are capped at £51,000 rateable value. Many bacta members operating at the seaside are by the nature of the business assessed at a higher level than this. They have to operate larger premises to provide the range and variety of products holidaymakers want to play. They are just as badly affected as the small shops they sit alongside but are often employing more people.

2.7 The situation at the coast is compounded by the fact that in essence the businesses only generate revenue during the holiday season, from Easter to the August Bank Holiday. It seems likely the impact of this crisis, whether or not premises open before August, will be felt long after that, as customers will need to time to revisit their pre-crisis behaviours. That means that seasonal business of whatever kind will have not seen any meaningful income from October 2019 and will not see any until Easter 2021.

2.8 Two recent press reports on the impact of Covid-19 said that coastal communities and economies were likely to be the most badly affected.

FURTHER SUPPORT OPTIONS

4.1 Introduction of additional late Summer/Autumn Bank Holidays. The loss of the Easter and Spring/Whitsun Bank Holidays has hit seasonal businesses particularly badly; these are peak times for customer visits. It makes sense to add an additional day to the August Bank Holiday (if seasonal businesses are open), and at least one other Bank Holiday in the early Autumn. This would give the population a much-needed opportunity to take a break as well as giving seasonal businesses a much needed potential boost.

4.2 Additional support for tourism promotional bodies. The concern about consumer behaviour may mean that customers do not readily return to the leisure activities they once enjoyed as a matter of course. The country’s tourism promotion bodies should be provided with additional support to market British holiday destinations specifically to British consumers who will not want, nor be able, to travel abroad.

MEASURES TO BE INTRODUCED TO ALLOW THE OPENING OF BACTA MEMBERS’ BUSINESSES

5.1 Bacta members in each of the different sub-sectors in which they operate will utilise the following menu of operational hygiene measures to protect their customers and staff as part of their individual risk assessments in order to enable them to reopen at the earliest appropriate opportunity consistent with the principles of: (a) Minimising potential infection through social distancing (b) Supporting a return to normal economic activity consistent with principle (a) above

5.2 In evaluating the measures below, bacta has mediated each proposal as to its safety, its legality, its fairness (particularly our expectations of our staff), its practicality and its positive impact.

5.3 A degree of flexibility will be needed as not every venue is the same. These guidelines are therefore broad and will be subject to individual risk assessments by individual operators and venues.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT CENTRES

FECs provide family entertainment both at the seaside and at inland leisure venues. Any enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures introduced will have to be sensitive to family needs. Appropriate signage and communication with responsible adults should encourage them to control their children more tightly than might otherwise be the case. Children should for example be required to remain with a responsible adult at all times. Staff are already highly trained and capable and will themselves be in the forefront of operators minds when designing their safety protocols. Where FECs are co-located with other leisure or holiday entertainments e.g. bowling alleys or holiday parks, these protocols will be adapted to support the venue owner.

(i) Provide clear signage to customers and staff to demonstrate recommended social distancing.

(ii) Hand sanitiser to be provided by a member of staff to all customers entering the premises and for hand sanitisation stations to be available around the venue.

(iii) Arrange premises in configurations that provide natural social distancing where possible.

(iv) Provide where alternative configurations are not possible, and signage is not practical, plexi-glass or similar dividers to maintain social distancing.

(v) Provide staffed entrance and exit points, clearly sign-posted, to promote social distancing but with due regard to existing fire regulations.

(vi) Limit and monitor the customers in the premises to a level that allows for appropriate social distancing. (vii) On multi-player machines inhibit where possible play by people who are not members of the same family or social group.

(viii) At redemption shops only permit customers to approach the counter individually and queuing to be at intervals consistent with recommended social distancing.

(ix) Redemption shops or reception desks to be separated from customers by a plexi-glass or similar screen.

(x) Staff to be fully trained and prepared in these Covid-19 safety protocols.

(xi) Staff to regularly clean, with a suitable product, all machines and especially after they have been vacated by a player.

(xii) Staff to wear PPE where appropriate and always when handling cash, in line with relevant guidelines.

HIGH STREET ADULT GAMING CENTRES

AGCs provide amusement machine-based entertainment to adults. They retail leisure time to their customers. They are not places where large numbers of people gather at any one time. A typical AGC will have no more than 5 to 6 people on the premises even at the busiest times. Even the most popular and larger city centre shops will rarely see more than a dozen people at peak. Most arcades are similar in size to typical high street shops. As a result staff will be able much more easily to enforce social distancing and other hygiene measures. Staff are already highly trained and capable and will themselves be in the forefront of operators minds when designing their safety protocols.

(i) Provide clear signage to customers and staff to promote social distancing.

(ii) Hand sanitiser to be provided by a member of staff to all customers entering the premises and for hand sanitisation stations to be available around the venue

(iii) Arrange premises in configurations to provide natural social distancing where possible. (The current limit on the number of (and most popular) Category B3 machines in most circumstances is 20% of the total number of machines. This significantly constrains operators’ ability to space machines, many of which are also largely connected to a physical digital infrastructure).

(iv) Provide where alternative configurations are not possible, and signage is not practical, plexi-glass or similar dividers to maintain social distancing.

(v) Utilise signage on multi-player machines so that there is only one player permitted to play at any one time or if two players wish to play that there is social distancing between them.

(vi) Limit and monitor the customers in the premises to a level that allows for appropriate social distancing.

(vii) Staff to be fully trained and prepared in these Covid-19 safety protocols.

(viii) Staff to regularly clean, with a suitable product, all machines especially after they have been vacated by a player.

(ix) Staff to wear PPE where appropriate and always when handling cash, in line with relevant guidelines.

SINGLE-SITE OPERATORS

Single-site operators hire machines to pubs and clubs. They are not directly responsible for the machines once on site. Operators will observe all Government guidance within their own businesses. Discussions are underway with the pub sector as to how machine suppliers can assist in the development of their own post-crisis operational protocols.

MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS

Similarly, manufacturers and distributors are not directly responsible for the machines they supply. They will be expected to adhere to all Government guidance to businesses.

CONCLUSION

6.1 The amusement machine industry in whatever guise, wants to help get the country’s economy up and running again. Not all businesses will make it through the crisis and into next year. With the right support most will, battered and bruised maybe, but nevertheless willing to get back to business.

Additional support will be required or continued if the economic impact of the current crisis is not be extended, particularly for seasonal businesses. Even then it will take time for customers to return to their usual leisure behaviours and feel comfortable spending. Removing support before we are back to a level of normality could see many businesses witnessing the withdrawal of support and therefore at a minimum a doubling of costs, with very little income to meet them. The recovery measures must therefore be very carefully planned.

6.2 The industry will nevertheless do all it can to ensure that it plays its part in controlling the potential threat of Covid-19 by changing the way it operates. A series of hygiene protocols will be introduced that mimic those currently and successfully operated in supermarkets and other shops that remain open.

6.3 Finally it is important that decisions on re-opening by Government are made as early as possible. Businesses will need as a minimum two-weeks to prepare.


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