A COUPLE have been left devastated following the downturn of their soft play business and its team due to “discriminatory” coronavirus restrictions.

Neil and Catrine Halls, owners of i-Play soft play in Clydebank, have had to make 10 of their employees redundant so far.

They say they may have to do the same with the remaining eight members of their team if the business is not allowed to welcome customers back soon.

Glasgow Times:

Soft play centres across the country were forced to shut their doors in March and are one of the few businesses that have not been allowed to reopen.

Neil, 46, said: “We are £30,000 in rent arrears – we have not been able to pay our rent since March.

Glasgow Times:

“We are in discussions with the landlord who is being reasonable and understanding but it is a huge burden incurring the debt with no open date in sight.”

The Scottish Government had proposed reopening soft play centres on September 14, but this was delayed to an “indicative” date of October 5.

A government spokesperson has now said that the October 5 date may be delayed further.

Neil added: “The question of when soft plays are allowed to reopen was asked in parliament last week by Miles Briggs MSP and Nicola Sturgeon’s response was basically that she’ll look into it and that there’s not really a lot that they can do, so we have no idea when we can start trading.

“We feel discriminated against – soft play areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are all open but not in Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

“We’ve not had any additional funding like most other places.

“If we let the remaining staff go and then we’re allowed to start trading again how are we meant to reopen?

“We’ve used all our savings and can’t afford to build up more debt.”

The couple, from Erskine, have already purchased equipment in order to keep their customers safe.

Glasgow Times:

Neil added: “We invested thousands in sanitiser and screens for when we thought we’d be reopening this month.

“I feel absolutely devastated – one, for my team, and secondly for the business we’ve built up just lying as an empty shell.

“There could be a loss of 20 jobs.

“Everything we have got is invested into this business so it could lead to losing property too.

Glasgow Times:

“It’s all very bleak at the moment.”

The couple attended a protest outside Holyrood on September 23 and are just two of the 7000 people who have signed a petition calling for financial help to save Scotland’s soft play centres.

Neil said that the sector feels discriminated against.

He said: “If I could have trampolines in the building instead then I could open the doors.

Why are trampoline parks and pubs allowed to open? How are they any safer than a soft play area?

“We’ve also not had any additional funding like the hospitality sector.

“We’ve had the furlough scheme and a £25,000 grant but not any additional funding.

Glasgow Times:

“We really have been forgotten about.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We don’t want any businesses to remain closed, or open with restrictions in place, for a day longer than is necessary but public health is paramount.

“The indicative date for soft play centres re-opening is on October 5 and we have always been clear that these indicative dates are conditional on making sufficient progress in suppressing the virus. In light of the current situation, it is likely that these indicative dates may be delayed further.

“We are currently working with the soft play sector and other stakeholders to develop guidance for the re-opening of soft play centres when it is safe for them to do so.

“We have called on the UK Government to extend the schemes that they fund, like the Job Retention Scheme which is particularly important for sectors like soft play who are still required to remain closed. The UK Government must think again about withdrawing blanket support and they must urgently implement some form of extension which would continue to provide help for the sectors that have been most heavily affected.

Glasgow Times:

“Throughout this unprecedented economic crisis we have listened to businesses and business organisations and acted quickly to offer support which now exceeds £2.3 billion. Our support for businesses includes almost £900 million of non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses including soft play centres; and the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund worth over £1 billion.

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