Bacta “tea-leaves” suggest no route to re-opening until May

John White Bacta re-opening timeline
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Bacta has told members that noises out of Westminster suggest re-opening in time for Easter could be a long-shot for most amusement outfits. The spring-board for UK plc is more likely to be May.


The head of Bacta has told amusement stakeholders that they should prepare to remain closed throughout the Easter period, as the government completes its ambitious vaccination programme.

In a guidance note to membership this week, the trade association’s chief executive John White stated that the government’s various responses to the pandemic were now crystallising – “becoming clearer, if not better” – and said that the fast rollout of vaccines would serves as “the key to unlocking the door to the lockdowns.”

“The key question is when can we see some of the restrictions lifted and areas to move back down the tiers and levels,” he wrote to operators, manufacturers and suppliers. “Reading the tea leaves right now it looks to me like Easter (April 2nd) is a long shot. I am getting the sense that hospitality and tourism will probably not get open until May.”

White went on to assure members that Bacta would continue to “push” for an Easter re-opening, but said that, for the time being at least, attitudes in Westminster had turned firmly away from economic matters.

“For obvious reasons the public health emergency has taken a new turn and governments are absolutely focusing on that rather than the economic consequences of their decisions,” he said.

He observed that ministers seemed to be of the mind that the government’s financial commitments to businesses impacted by the lockdown had essentially taken the subject of the economy “off the table.”

“We shall remind them that it doesn’t,” White assured members. “We’ll also be reminding them that AGCs must be classed as non-essential retail when it comes to re-opening.”

Indeed, Bacta hasn’t allowed the pandemic from stopping its interface with key decision makers for the industry. Just last week White and his colleagues spoke to both the Chairman of the Lords Committee on Gambling Reform and Treasury representatives, where they once again reiterated the industry’s request for 5 per cent VAT and MGD as part of the ongoing rewrite of the Gambling Act.

Meanwhile, this week will see the trade association focus on meetings with the DCMS and the Scottish Tourism Recovery Group, with further devolved focus by way of an additional meeting with the Welsh Government.

“They remain cloth-eared to our request for an explanation as to why AGCs don’t merit their support,” White remarked of legislators in Cardiff. “Interestingly, we met with a Conservative MS last week who was equally as bemused, and encouraged members to keep on writing to their MS’s elsewhere in the country.”



“We met with DCMS this week and discussed Covid and the Gambling Review. We have been invited to a further meeting with the Minister Nigel Huddleston, to discuss the Covid situation which will cover the whole of the UK. We will focus on re-opening making the case for Easter for opening for tourism businesses, getting AGCs open as non-essential retail, and looking for support for a 5 percent Vat rate for FECs. The case for an extension in rates relief is on the Chancellor’s desk.”


“In terms of lobbying we met with both the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the Scottish Tourism Recovery Group this week and are looking to schedule another meeting with the SG in the next couple of weeks. We will seek a meeting to discuss our two key asks in Scotland, getting AGCs open in Level 3 and ensuring support for the supply chain.”


“I know some members have not been getting much joy from their local councils on the discretionary grants. If this is the case do let me know so I can take it up with DCMS.”


“I had another meeting with WG this week to press the case for AGCs and one member has taken a complaint against his local Council to the Welsh Ombudsman.”

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