The government has refused to allow AGCs in England to reopen on April 12 despite no evidence supporting the decision. That will mean another five weeks and three bank holidays closed whilst the rest of the high street gets back up and running.
The hopes for an April 12 reopening for AGCs were laid to rest last week when the government made its official response to Bacta confirming the decision to keep arcades closed until May 17.
Reporting back to members, association chief executive John White noted: “We got the expected response from Government to our solicitor’s letter pointing out that AGCs had been discriminated against as the only retail venue on the High Street that was not going to be allowed to open on April 12th; namely denying any discrimination and that the decision had been reached properly.”
The news will serve as a bitter blow to the sector which remains baffled by the anomalies in government policy on reopening, so much so that the association has continued to press hard for evidence.
“We have responded to ask them to justify some of the assertions about our business that they make in their letter to us,” White explained, adding that the call for evidence has also been extended to new gambling minister John Whittingdale.
The likelihood of the government supplying evidence to support its decision is slim as is any shuffle on the reopening date which has steered some in the AGC sector to call for a doubling down on demands for MGD rates to be cut. One operator told Coinslot: “We were the first to close, and now the last to open. We’ve spent thousands of pounds on making our arcades Covid-secure, taken on additional loans to keep us afloat, and yet there’s no concessions on MGD or Gambling Commission licence fees. Who do you think I’ll be voting for at the next election?”
The AGC’s frustrations are compounded by the loss of both the Easter and May bank holidays – two crucial trading times for the sector. And this will almost certainly be extended across the two devolved borders. In Scotland the government has already confirmed that ‘amusement arcades’ will open on May 17, although clarification will be sought to ensure that this will also include AGCs.
In Wales, however, reopening dates have still to be determined, but hopes of an early breakthrough there are slim given the track record of the Welsh government. That said, Wales has been more receptive to the industry’s argument of late. Whilst not a breakthrough, White was able to report on at least a shimmer of recognition: “South Wales Regional Chairman, Richard Case and I held our regular meeting with WG officials this morning where we felt that our messages on re-opening were getting through,” he said.
PETITION LAUNCHED TO GET AGCS OPENED EARLY
Bacta has unveiled its second petition on the Government’s petition website demanding that AGCs be allowed to open on April 12th with other non-essential retail. The association stated: “As with our VAT petition please get everyone you know to sign it and in turn get them to get everyone they know to do the same. Please use social media to promote it. The petition can be signed at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/579051