BGC welcomes extension to UK furlough scheme
The UK’s Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has praised the government for its decision to extend the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) furlough scheme through to October, saying this will help to protect thousands of workers in the gambling sector.
Chancellor Rushi Sunak introduced the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in March to help workers impacted by the outbreak, pledging that the government would pay 80% of their wages up to £2,500 per month.
Sunak has now said this commitment will continue to the end of July, after which the government would continue to contribute to people’s wages, but with employers also expected to bear some of the cost. Furloughed staff will also be encouraged to return to work part-time from August.
Subject to further government announcements on coronavirus, the scheme will run through to the end of October.
All betting shops, bingo halls and casinos in the UK have been closed since 20 March. These facilities have benefited from the scheme, with many operators choosing to furlough staff during the period of closure, to mitigate the loss of revenue.
This week, the government released details about the next stage of its plans to exit lockdown, but stressed that only some measures would be lifted at specific intervals.
The BGC said that even with partial relaxation of social distancing measures, which is not expected until July, many retail, leisure and hospitality businesses would not survive without additional longer-term support from the government. This suggests it will not be until July that entertainment facilities will be able to reopen.
In addition, the BGC said this flexibility would help bingo halls and casinos to get back up and running while retaining control over staffing costs. Some 64,000 people are estimated to work in the UK’s retail betting and gaming industry.
“We strongly welcomed the introduction of the furlough scheme, as a lifeline for our members and the tens of thousands they employ, and we are delighted that the Chancellor has announced it will continue until the end of October,” BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said.
“Even when social distancing measures are relaxed for the hospitality and leisure industry, many of our member companies would be operating at a much reduced capacity. Without continued business support these businesses will fail and jobs will be lost.”
“Extending the furlough scheme and introducing a flexible furlough will provide a more stable transition during the lockdown.”
Gambling and betting operators have also benefitted from the Business Rates Retail Discount, meaning they will receive 100% business rates relief in recognition that they had to close as part of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Though the initial scheme did not include businesses within the gambling sector, pressure from the BGC saw this expanded to also cover facilities such as casinos, betting shops and bingo halls.
However, the situation in Wales remains that betting shops, bingo halls and casinos still cannot access the discount, as Welsh government policy stipulates that the discount does not apply to betting shops. The BGC called for this to also be extended, saying the current policy will put jobs at risk across the sector.