A disunited kingdom: The frustrations of a principality

disgruntled kingdom - frustrations of a principality
Share this article

With the respective governments of Wales, Scotland and England all going their own ways in their response to the wildfire spread of Omicron, members of Bacta have found themselves operating under different rules from one another based on which third of Britain their business calls home. While the leaders of each government squabble in separation, Bacta’s regional chairs have been strategising together, with Richard Case, regional chair for South Wales, working hard to keep members in his region informed and to lobby local politicians.

 

The countries that make up the United Kingdom are operating on different levels, both metaphorically and literally, with Wales currently at level two.

For Richard Case, Bacta’s regional chair for South Wales, and his fellow operators in the region, this has meant re-implementing rules in both seaside venues and those on the high street.

“In Wales we are back in level 2, for arcades this has meant only a reintroduction of the 2-meter rule and social distancing so far,” explained Case. “We never removed sanitising stations, etc, but we have now reintroduced screens to facilitate social distancing.”

This, of course, has been off putting for many of the players that frequent Case’s regional members venues, and it has been reflected by significant drop in performance. “We have seen a drop in footfall of about 50 percent and a drop in turnover of about 40 percent,” he continued. “I believe others in Wales are facing the same pressures.”

According to Case, the seaside sector was supported in 2021 by the Welsh Government, but help for adult gaming centres on the high street was non-existent – a fact that Bacta will continually be lobbying to change in 2022.

“Seaside’s were supported but high street amusement arcades were almost completely ignored by Welsh Government on the grants issue from previous lockdowns and expect nothing better at this time,” he said. “High street amusement arcades just want the same support as any other business on the high street.”

Indeed, the Welsh Government, while increasing Covid restrictions to level two, have not increased the level of communication given to business leaders in South Wales, with Case stating there has been “absolutely nothing” in terms of feedback for grant support in the country.

 

“I think it’s ridiculous”: Welsh operators assess different restrictions across the UK

 

Welsh operators have responded to the “ridiculous” disparity in Covid measures across the four devolved UK nations, as English businesses continue to operate without capacity and social distancing requirements.

With arcades in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all adhering to strict new rules introduced last month – and all different to one another and, most importantly, each at odds with laissez- faire England – many border towns now face competition from their unrestricted neighbours.

“I think it’s ridiculous that someone can go from North Wales and go across the border and do things differently in England,” said one Welsh arcade operator who asked not to be named. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“The new regulations they have imposed in my place haven’t made that much difference at this time of year, and I think it’s probably the same for arcades across the country, but if I had a pub or a club I’d be fuming.”

Though – as ever – there is still much dispute over which governments made the “right” decision regarding Omicron, the lack of restrictions in England has fuelled discontent among business owners in different parts of the UK.

However, with the new variant proving much more transmissible than previous incarnations, hospitality and leisure firms across the country are united in suffering the impact of self-isolation requirements.

“We have gone back to exactly what we had in place after the first lockdown; signed entrance and exit doors, one-way systems. We, like everyone it seems, have lost members of staff to self-isolating laws which has made it difficult to operate at full capacity.”

 

A united Bacta: Lobbying in three lands under three rules for one industry

 

The principle of devolution has been a model of modern day democracy, bringing real power back to the regions. The practicalities of devolution, on the other hand, have been less empowering particularly in the Covid-era. Just ask an arcade operator in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland over Christmas and the New Year.

The current response to the Omicron wave – different in each of the four home countries – has been a significant challenge to trade bodies representing members across each of the borders. And Bacta are no exception; except, however, its connections in each devolved government across the United Kingdom have enabled it to convey the industry’s message directly to Westminster, Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont.

While speaking to the four administrations hasn’t be too much of an issue in normal times due to gambling policy being a reserved power, this has certainly changed as the UK developed into a somewhat disunited kingdom as each power raised the bar on its approach to Covid-19 restrictions. Lobbying in Wales, Scotland and England have become separate endeavours since then, and while Bacta doesn’t lobby directly in Northern Ireland, the trade association has assisted NIACTA when asked.

“The Covid pandemic has illustrated that there are things, important things, upon which we do need to lobby in Cardiff and Holyrood and this has been an explicit brief to our new PA/PR people,” explained White. “The relationships we have built during the past couple of years have been valuable and helpful, and yes, we are continuing to engage during the latest round of measures formulated in Wales and Scotland.”

While it was too soon for White to provide any post-Christmas updates on how members are faring with new restrictions and England’s ‘stealth lockdown, he predicted the biggest impact would be on hospitality, stating the latest developments are “undoubtedly going to feed into to the pub machine numbers”.

 

Christmas cancelled in Wales as Cardiff closes its wonders

 

Cardiff was forced to bid a premature farewell to its Winter Wonderland on 27 December, after the Welsh government brought in tight new restrictions as of Boxing Day morning. Workers were seen dismantling rides, stalls and decorations at Cardiff Castle on bank holiday Monday, as the city’s hospitality sector suffered “empty chairs and tables.”

“Following the announcement of the restrictions, Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland, which included amusements and ice rinks along with the Ice Bar, closed early at 8pm on Christmas Eve,” reported Wales Online. “The popular Christmas at Bute Park light trail was also shut early. It was due to run right through to 3 January but shut on Boxing Day.”

Cardiff Winter Wonderland, which featured a full schedule of live music and family entertainment at the Bandstand on City Hall Lawns, was also due to run until 3 January.

Following the new restrictions the city was practically deserted post-Christmas Day, with “streets full of bars, restaurants and pubs, still open over the bank holiday but virtually empty.”


Share this article