Scotbet chairman calls for government support as ‘future remains uncertain’

John Heaton, Chairman of Scotbet, has stated that Scotland’s independent bookmakers are facing a fight for survival, as businesses enter an unprecedented autumn and winter trading period.

Bookmakers in Scotland were permitted to reopen their doors in June – however, with current government restrictions, Heaton stated that ‘there is no end in sight to the economic calamity that Covid has created’ for independent businesses across the country.

Writing for The Scotsman, Heaton explained: “With millions of people returning to their workplace and the furlough scheme gradually being wound down, the economic turmoil of the early days of lockdown seems like a distant memory. But for Scotbet, the nation’s largest independent betting shop operator, there is no end in sight to the economic calamity that Covid has created.

“First thing’s first. We are grateful for the financial support we have received, not least the UK Government’s furlough scheme. Without it, we would have been wiped out by the pandemic. It allowed us to retain our talented, experienced team and get us through the worst of lockdown.

“Our shops were closed for over three months, during which time we received no income whatsoever. Of course, we are not alone; many businesses were in the same boat, but some at least received government support to help them through the worst of the economic turmoil. Not Scotbet.”

During the initial UK-wide lockdown, bookmakers were ineligible for a 100% business rates relief, placing significant financial strain on companies looking to remain afloat.

Heaton pointed out that while betting shops were offered ‘a paltry 1.6% discount on their annual rates bill’, they were also ineligible for a retail, hospitality and leisure support grant as well as a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

The Scotbet chairman has estimated that the pandemic has incurred costs of more than £500,000, something that he explains is unsustainable for a number of businesses in Scotland, with takings also down 20%.

“We all feel let down by the Scottish Government. Having contacted them several times to raise our plight, we have not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgment.

“The First Minister is on record as having said that she wants all Scottish businesses trading viably again, but actions speak louder than words. Where is the practical support for businesses like ours? I understand that resources are tight, but betting shops in England were deemed worthy of government support, so why not those in Scotland?

“We are a small company but there are many like us across Scotland – many of them family-run, independent bookmakers that have been in business for decades. Even at this late stage, I hope that Scottish Ministers reconsider our plight. We are back in business but not as we know it and the next few months will be challenging at best. First Minister, we need help.”

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