The UK Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) has welcomed the announcement ahead of Wednesday’s Budget that non-essential retail businesses such as betting shops will be eligible for direct cash grants of up to £6000 per site, although the bookmaker trade body has reiterated its call for an extension of business rates relief for a further year.
Details of the grant scheme came as part of a series of announcements ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s annual budget speech, in which he is set to reveal a new grant scheme totalling £5 billion to aid the recovery of high-street businesses in England.
Nearly 700,000 shops, restaurants, hotels, hair salons, gyms and other businesses in England will be eligible for “restart grants,” to be distributed directly to firms by local authorities from April. It will replace the current monthly grant system.
Under the budget plans, non-essential retail will be eligible for direct cash grants of up to £6000 to help them start trading again when allowed to do so, while hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses in England – which will remain closed for longer under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown – will be able to apply for grants of £18,000 per site.
“The BGC would warmly welcome any additional support for betting shops, be that business rates or grants, particularly giving the pressure independent betting shops are under,” a spokesman for the BGC said.
Racecourses and bookmakers in England were given a clear set of dates to work towards for reopening last week when prime minister Boris Johnson gave the first details of a timetable for leaving lockdown.
Non-essential retail, which has for most of the pandemic included betting shops, will form part of phase two of the plan, with April 12 the provisional date for reopening if vaccination rates rise and hospitalisations drop sufficiently.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher has written to Sunak ahead of the budget setting out a five-point plan for more business support to “unlock the power of the high street and drive economic growth.”
Dugher said in his letter: “With premises shut for much of the past year, this would help protect jobs and remove a major financial pressure on businesses that have suffered a significant loss of income during the pandemic.”
Dugher pointed to the fact that licensed betting offices had been severely impacted by the various regional and national lockdowns over the past ten months, with revenues for this sector falling by 45% in 2020.
The letter also seeks assurance that funding for devolved administrations is made available to all business sectors in need. While businesses in England and Northern Ireland have benefited from business rates relief since last April, the Scottish and Welsh governments took the decision not to provide support for gambling companies.
“The UK Government’s backing for business stands in stark contrast to the refusal of the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland to offer business rates relief to our members,” states the letter.
“This has sadly had a disproportionate impact on our smaller independent businesses, many of them family run, which have faced making staff redundant and an uncertain future.”