Covid in Scotland: Soft play owners ‘angry’ at continued lockdown

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCraig Meikle: “I feel angry when I wake up in the morning, angry when I go to bed at night and angry every hour in between.”

The owners of soft play and indoor sports facilities have warned they face financial ruin.

While such businesses opened in England in mid-August they remain closed in Scotland.

Many soft play centres, theatres and nightclubs had hoped to open on Monday but some fear they now never will.

Last week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the date of their reopening had been postponed until at least 15 October.

She said it would not be sensible to ease restrictions while infection rates were rising.

The sectors had previously been given indicative reopening dates of 14 September and 5 October.

‘I feel angry’

Craig Meikle, who owns Saltire soft play and football centre in Dalkeith, has run out of patience.

“I feel angry when I wake up in the morning, angry when I go to bed at night and angry every hour in between,” he said.

“My wife and I have spent six years building this business up to be a sustainable business.

“We’re not going to get rich from this but our staff would have said they were in a stable secure job.”

Image caption

Saltire Soft Play in Dalkeith is close to financial disaster

He says the business is six to eight weeks away from collapse.

In six months of closure, he says £166,000 has left his business bank account with just £49,000 in furlough payments coming in.

His business took a £100,000 loan to survive which is almost gone.

Mr Meikle says he is now at the mercy of his creditors but thanks to an understanding landlord, he is still hopeful for his business.

He told BBC Scotland: “So when you hear the chancellor talking about support packages for viable businesses it drives me absolutely nuts.

“When I think we have got a viable business that offers an important service to the community and it’s not a business that either the Scottish government or the UK government are seeing fit to support financially, rage is probably the best feeling I could explain.”

Saltire has had no financial help outside the job retention scheme and the business did not qualify for any grants.

Mr Meikle has seen other businesses receive awards of up to £25,000 which have been allowed to reopen and earn money.

Image caption

The Saltire cafe sits empty

His frustration is in getting no financial help and still being unable to earn.

He is not alone.

New rules don’t help

Mike Ferguson runs Forfar Indoor Sports. He says his phone never stops ringing asking if they are open. And he has had to watch his customers go elsewhere to venues that can open.

He said: “We are praying that on the 15th we get going. Heading towards something and not getting there is demoralising.

“The furlough scheme has been excellent for staff but we now have to think seriously about letting staff go.

“We can’t carry on paying even a share of staff wages and the new rules don’t assist.”

Mr Ferguson says he is now trying to plan for reopening without a date.

Cancellation of the 15 September deadline hit hard with training completed, deep cleans paid for and food wasted.

He said: “If they are not coming to us they are going somewhere else. That’s the most frustrating point of all of this.”

Image copyright
Frosty’s Fun

Image caption

Frosty’s Fun centre in Fofar has not seen customers since Lockdown began on 23 March

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said it understood the severe impact of the pandemic, but that Scotland was at a “critical point” as the virus continues to rise.

She said: “Our absolute focus has been to help businesses survive and retain as much employment as possible – using the limited powers available to us and we have repeatedly urged the UK government to transfer to us the financial powers needed to fully respond to the pandemic.

“Throughout this unprecedented economic crisis we have listened to businesses and business organisations and acted quickly to offer support which now exceeds £2.3bn.

“Our support for businesses includes almost £900m of non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses including soft play centres; the small business grant fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund worth over £1bn; the culture organisations and venues recovery fund which includes nightclubs.

“We also created hardship and resilience funds unique to Scotland, with a value of £185m targeted at support for SMEs and the self-employed.”