19th June 2020
- England – Bacta President, James Miller, and myself had a further meeting with DCMS Minister, Nigel Huddleston, today. We were joined by the Bingo Association and the BGC (Casinos). Whilst ostensibly about re-opening plans for the various sectors, we were not shy in communicating just how angry the AGC sector was with Government’s last minute U-turn on opening. There was no further clarification on that point, but all the body language suggests someone dropped the ball at the last minute. The Minister recognised the pain the decision had caused and said Government had learnt lessons from it. He was still being lobbied heavily by MPs. Indeed today Clacton MP, Giles Watling, sent a letter to Boris Johnson signed by 38 of his conservative colleagues. Given that Tory MPs have been told not to sign open letters this is an indication of just how much support we have. However, we are not open and must therefore continue to press the case. I would urge you please to keep writing to your MPs and to local councillors, asking them to make the case that AGCs should have been allowed to open and the Government can still now rectify their mistake.
More generally DCMS were very supportive of the sector guidance and Risk Assessments we had produced. These were now with Public Health England for review. No problems were anticipated.
We were encouraged to support Visit Britain’s Good to Go Scheme. I will circulate more details on this in due course, but it looks like the Department is pushing for all their sectors to be open on 4th July, subject to the science.
We also raised the necessary legislative easements we said would help with minimising Covid-19 transmission, namely the relaxation of the 80/20 Rule and the direct use of debit cards on machines. We were told these were all in the mix but that other priorities across government meant that any legislative change would not happen in the near term. The Minister could be no firmer than that.
- Scotland – First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, today announced amongst other things, that small retail could open from 29th June. This does not include AGCs (nor Betting Offices). It is likely these will be included in Phase 3 opening. We will continue to press for earlier. That will be confirmed on 9th July with opening scheduled for 15th July, depending on the science.
- Wales – It has been widely trailed today that First Minister, Mark Draeford will announce tomorrow, Friday, that non-essential retail will be able to open on Monday next week. Like Scotland and despite our lobbying, it is unlikely that will include AGCs.
- Our main difficulty in Wales continues to be the intransigence of some local councils to award rates relief or retail leisure and hospitality grants to members. It looks like this issue has now been referred back to the Welsh Government which at least provides us with a renewed focus. Previously the WG simply said that discretion on awarding grants was down to the Council and would’t get involved. Councils said they wouldn’t do anything unless they had guidance from the WG!
- In all countries of the UK discretionary grants have been made available by local councils to businesses that have fallen through the gaps with other support but have been badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. I have circulated details previously. In England this week, a new FAQs was issue to Councils which confirmed that they were perfectly able to consider grants to businesses that had a rateable value above £51k and that suppliers to the retail, leisure and hospitality industry were certainly not excluded from getting a grant. I would suggest all single site operators, manufacturers and distributors make an application. The fund is discretionary but if you are refused on grounds of eligibility please let me know and I will send you the document they have been sent which sets out the position.
- I have advised before both on the Financial Conduct Authority court case on Business Interruption insurance and the crowd funding site established to get funding to fight the insurance companies on the issue and which is supported by BALPPA and UK Hospitality amongst others. Can I invite concerned members to take a look. The person running the site will look at the wording of your insurance and give advice on whether there are grounds for a claim. He is also trying to get enough money together to fund a court case. https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/hospitality-business-interruption-action/
- If you have taken advantage of the deferral of VAT for the March – June quarter, HMRC have updated their guidance to remind businesses to re-set direct debits in good time for HMRC to take payments (for following quarters); to submit VAT returns as normal, and to pay post June VAT as normal. Payment for the deferred quarter must be paid by April next year. Click here for details https://www.gov.uk/guidance/deferral-of-vat-payments-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19.
- Finally I would encourage members to keep an eye on the Government’s JRS webpages as we approach July 1st when the new ‘flexibility’ rules come into play. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
As always please feel free to call me at any time and please keep me informed of any responses you get to lobbying letters or any other issues that arise.