It wasn’t the roadmap the coin-op industry was hoping for, nor needed. Instead of driving in the fast lane towards recovery, Boris Johnson’s plan to get Britain’s business traffic moving again shunted coin-op on to the hard shoulder. Bacta are bashing the steering wheel with rage; not just at the inconsistent and incomprehensible guidelines, but also at the prospect of an industry, already out of gas, being pushed to the back of the reopening queue. How, the association is asking, has the government managed to muddle up such an incoherent plan? Coinslot traces a torrid 72-hours for the trade body.
Bacta is furious that its members have been ignored in Boris Johnson’s reopening roadmap and will lose valuable weeks of trade – despite strong evidence that they could operate COVID safely.”
That’s how the official Bacta response, released hours after official notice was received from the DCMS that amusement arcades will not open until 17 May, began.
The language was unforgiving: “unsustainable strain”, “frustrating”, “the government has refused to listen”, “the decision is wrong-headed, illogical and evidence-free”.
For an industry that has a very strong and loyal base of hardcore Tory voters, these will be concerning soundings for the Johnson government.
As will the trade body’s call to arms; from small-to-medium sized family run businesses to the larger gaming groups, Bacta has started to marshal its troops to secure MPs to back the campaign to open in seven weeks time rather than 12.
“Following yesterday’s news on re-opening we have spent the day in furious lobbying efforts to get AGCs open with all other retail on the 12th April,” CEO John White advised. “We wrote to the PM last night and followed that up with a letter to DCMS Secretary, Oliver Dowden. In addition, all our MP contacts are about to get a letter asking them to pressure Number 10 to even at the eleventh hour to do the right thing.”
The association has also set up an online petition to secure 10,000 signatures which would force an official government response “to the fact that their supposedly evidence-led approach is clearly not being followed.”
And Bacta clearly means business: “We have also met with lawyers today to explore potential legal challenges to the Government. Their discriminatory treatment of bookmakers and AGCs is patently anti-competitive.”
The aggressive schedule of action is backed by some considerable compelling and reasoned arguments. White explained: “Our FEC members are seasonal businesses and, when we do open on 17th May, will have missed a further three bank holidays. We need Government to extend the 5 percent VAT rate to amusement machines.”
And then there’s the beleaguered supply chain, down on average over three quarters of its revenues. For this sector, Bacta has singled out the chancellor for help: “We must make the case in advance of the budget that rates relief and other support should be extended to the hospitality supply chain.”
The Scottish play
Whilst England has entangled itself in inconsistency, Scotland’s announcement this week was quite the opposite. Nicola Sturgeon remained consistent in an entangled policy for recovery, reverting back to its levels and progressing down through the stages in line with the progress of the vaccination roll-out.
Bacta were less angry ay Holyrood, but no less frustrated. “Whilst there are a lot of words in the plan, it is short on relevant detail,” White reported to members. “For business the key date is 26th April. From then the Government plans to move the whole country back to its levelling system. We will learn more in early March… of note was the statement that there would be some changes to the content of the levels. We continue to make the case that in Level 3, AGCs should be allowed to open. We met with Scottish Conservative Economy lead, Maurice Golden on Monday and he agreed to take a number of our lobbying asks to the SG.”
Welsh resistance drags on
In Wales, Bacta continues to push for arcade concessions, but positive action remains hard to secure. “We met today with WG officials to again explain the need for AGCs to open in Wales as non-essential retail. The case has been put up to Cabinet for a decision. Our promised meeting with Ken Skates has not happened nor the meeting he subsequently promised with senior officials,” John White reported back. Whilst the government door was still closed, there are other political figures knocking on the industry’s behalf, as White confirmed: “We also held a meeting today with Liz Saville Roberts, MP of Plaid Cymru. It was a productive meeting and again she understood our arguments and promised to do what she could to get the message across to both the Government at Westminster and in Cardiff.”
So what now? Coinslot asks Bacta chief executive John White what next for the industry…
Q: It wasn’t the roadmap most in the industry would have wanted. What is Bacta’s short term plan of action to address the missing links?
John White: We have already written to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State at DCMS, opposition spokespeople, and all our MP contacts as well as officials. These have been followed up by telephone conversations with key individuals. We are ramping up our PR and social media actively to get the political pressure building and have a meeting with the Minister hopefully this week. We also expect all our members to write to their MPs, it may only sound like 5 weeks, but it’s 5 of the most important weeks for our industry in which we lose Easter and the May bank holiday.
Q: Your recent survey highlighted the devastating economic impact of Covid on the industry. How serious a threat is the government roadmap to the future of many of your members?
JW: You do the maths,..We have been closed for seven months and trading sub-optimally otherwise. There are businesses clinging with the last fingernail of the last finger onto the cliff face. Some have already had to let go and unless more support is forthcoming more will go along with the livelihoods they provide for our people.
Q: You’ve referenced the uneven responses from multiple departments across the four countries. Has this been a key hindrance to the industry’s arguments and should devolved government be addressed in the post-Covid review?
JW: Not particularly. The discussions have been discrete. The problem has been that there is only so many hours in the day and having to engage three times in England, Scotland and Wales on the same arguments with varying responses is very time consuming and thereby impacting our ability to do other things.
Q: How can next week’s budget help to soften the re-opening blow?
JW: CJRS must be extended. Hospitality rates relief must be extended both in time and across the supply chain. VAT should be cut to 5 percent on amusement machine takes. Additional measures to incentivise consumer spend in pubs and tourism venues would also be a help in driving footfall through the summer.