Off the Record: Hanging Hancock out to dry

off the record Matt Hancock inflation staff
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OTR delves into the shark bowl that’s Conservative party politics, explains why inflation represents such a threat to our industry and why it took 45-minutes to just get a pint in a pub.

 

INFLATION IS A CURSE ON OUR INDUSTRY

There’s been a lot of speculation concerning a possible rise in inflation brought about by a combination of increased costs of raw materials, a container shortage and the spend, spend, spend mentality being adopted by the British population after months of being forced to stay at home.

Add to this some wage inflation and its quite a concerning scenario for everyone but especially for those of us in the AGC business.

When every other business suffers a hike in prices they can pass it on to their customers either in full or in part: when it happens to us we are left having to ‘suck it up’ on the basis that we cannot increase the price of play on our gaming machines.

Inflation is therefore a major concern as any additional costs come off the bottom line.

I’m anticipating cost increases for my equipment which will coincide no doubt with an uplift in utilities, repayments for the bounce back loans, wage increases including the new minimum wage level and whatever the Gambling Commission can get away with.

On the basis that we’ve missed ten months of income an uptick in the rate of inflation is the very last thing that my business needs and if at all possible, the government should avoid.

YOU CAN’T GET THE STAFF – LITERALLY

I read that nearly 1 in 4 of hospitality workers pre-Brexit were from EU countries a figure that went up to 70 percent of those in London and the South East. Recruitment is a massive concern and I know of arcade owners who have lost their entire workforce through a combination of people returning to their home countries and staff finding new work doing fewer more sociable hours.

While this is more of a problem for restaurants and pubs – incidentally, I was left waiting 45-minutes to be served a drink in a pub earlier this week due to ‘staff shortages’ – it still impacts our business. I’m recruiting in the next couple of weeks and I’m dreading it.

There shouldn’t be a problem in a country this size but I know it’s going to be a nightmare.

Serving people is looked down upon as something you only do when you are a student or inbetween proper jobs, whereas in Europe hospitality is a career choice.

I’ve had some stand-out brilliant staff who have the ability to hit it off with customers immediately and they are worth their weight in gold to what is in essence a ‘people business.’

BE PROUD OF WHAT AGCS OFFER

I’ve had some nice comments since we reopened and customers seem genuinely pleased and confident about returning.

Some people play golf, others go to football or spend three or four nights in the pub (if they can afford it): but my customers choose to meet their friends, catch-up, have a coffee and play the machines in my arcade which represents good value for money entertainment. Just as a comparison four of us went on a family night to the cinema last week and the cost came to £70, which is a lot of money to watch Paddington – but the difference was we didn’t say we lost £70 and we weren’t made to feel guilty about spending that amount.

There’s a big cultural divide and it seems to me that some sections of society enjoy looking down on how people like my customers choose to spend their money in a way that smacks of intolerance and should be completely unacceptable in a modern society.

Sometimes I think we should be on the front foot and say that we provide the time and the opportunity for people to gamble in a socially responsible way with their friends.

We shouldn’t be afraid to say that we are in the gambling industry.

We deserve our place on the high street.

CUMMINGS OR JOHNSON?

I’ve never really taken to Dominic Cummings but his destruction of the government in the Select Committee was something else.

It took some balls and not many would have done that, which is to his credit. Who would I trust out of Cummings or Boris Johnson – it’s not a great choice but I would say that Cummings didn’t come across as someone who was lying, he was just absolutely determined to say his piece.

He was clearly wounded by his experience being thrown out of the government machine and he clearly hasn’t got time for Matt Hancock who he said had a distant relationship with the truth.

There were also some pretty decent one-liners: I liked the ‘Country of Lions led by Donkeys’ and the reference to there being something wrong with a political system that throws-up a choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Has he damaged the PM – to be fair I’m not sure he has which just goes to show quite how far we have fallen, morally.

The reference to the PM suggesting that Chris Whitty injected him with Covid live on TV to demonstrate how harmless it was, was so Trumpesque it was scary. But like Trump our Prime Minister appears to be bullet proof: I’m not exactly sure what it would take to unseat him?

There has been some speculation that Cummings would welcome a return to mainstream politics perhaps as an ally of heir apparent Michael Gove.

One thing’s for sure – any ambitions the Health Secretary may have had for the top job have been well and truly torpedoed!

WATCH OUT FOR A TSUNAMI OF LITIGATION

A worker sacked for refusing to break rules on essential travel has won £16k at an employment tribunal.

This is the first of what I predict will be a Tsunami of claims brought against businesses by people asserting they caught Covid or their relatives caught Covid because of negligent owners.

Lawyers are limbering up to pursue claims through the courts and I think every business needs to ensure they have documented all of the systems, processes and procedures they put in place from Day 1.

There are huge grey areas that need addressing; for example, what can I do as a business owner if a member of staff refuses to be vaccinated? Can I force them, can I dismiss them or do I need to move them to a new role? Even if they aren’t customer- facing they will still be in contact with their co-workers and present a risk.

The government needs to be explicit about where the law sits, and what businesses are required to do.

A business trying to protect its staff and customers could as a result find itself on the wrong end of a constructive dismissal charge.

A case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t!


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