The Indoor Play Association welcome the workforce measures but expressed concern on the impact the support in childcare will have on weekday trade and warns further business closures are ‘inevitable’ after lack of energy support in Budget.
Whilst the workforce measures may potentially lighten the burden of the indoor play sector, the Association of Indoor Play stands with other industry leaders across Hospitality and Leisure in warning that further closures are “inevitable” following a lack of energy bills support for businesses in the spring Budget.
A recent poll showed 21% of operators are still servicing Covid rent arrears and the lack of help with rocketing utility bills will be a particular blow for sector businesses, with the reduction in support from the end of March. In recent months the industry has seen a sharp rise in businesses indoor play businesses cutting up to two trading days per week due to spiralling energy bills, a measure historically unheard of in indoor play. Indoor play is an industry with higher-than-average gas and electricity usage and is a sector that has seen incredible economic damage over the past three years.
The Association did, however, welcome the Government’s measures to maintain the current levels of energy support to consumers, freezing fuel duty and reducing inflation will allow households to increase disposable income, which it hopes will be a boost parents in taking their children to indoor play.
The Association is also hopeful that the workforce measures will make it easier to recruit, yet this won't happen straight away as there's no immediate support, which is what the sector needs. It also raises questions about how this may help with weekend and temp staff.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls statement which represents the indoor play sub sector: “With hospitality businesses continuing to struggle with vacancies running at 56% higher than pre-pandemic levels, the measures announced today are significant in incentivising people back into work and hopefully alleviating crippling labour shortages.”
The support measures for parents of children is an area of potential concern for indoor play. Not only are operators curious to understand where the places will come from considering nurseries are currently over-subscribed, but also are concerned about losing the custom of weekday pre-school visitors. The measures include:
- 30 hours of free childcare for working parents in England expanded to cover one and two-year-olds, to be rolled out in stages from April 2024
- Families on universal credit to receive childcare support up front instead of in arrears, with the £646-a-month per child cap raised to £951
- £600 "incentive payments" for those becoming childminders, and relaxed rules in England to let childminders look after more children
Janice Dunphy, Chair of the Association and owner of Web Adventure Park and Little Bugs Nursery said, "Our Members weekday trade relies on nursery age children coming in to to play and attend "parent & me" classes. Members simply cannot afford to have their trade adversely affected at a time when every penny of income counts."
Talking of the measures, Ken Lunn, Finance Director of the Association and owner of Jack in the Box Club in Beverly, North Yorkshire said: “I think there will be some impact on mid-week trade, but in my view it will not be massive. I believe parents are more likely to maybe do 3 days than 5 at nursery so they’ll still have time to come and play and will have more money to spend. There is also quite a large number that already pay for nursery. They will now get it free so will have more money to spend.”
He added, “The Government expect around 60,000 parents to return to work. At the last census there were 3.75m under 5’s. So, assuming 9 months to 2 account for half of these, the number affected by parents returning to work is about 3%. So not a significant number. Of course, there will be some already working part time who will increase their days.”
The Association of Indoor Play (AIP) is the Trade Association for the indoor play sector in the United Kingdom. We are a not for profit organisation set up to be the voice of the Indoor Play Sector.
The Association was formed in at the start of the COVID pandemic by a group of seasoned national indoor softplay providers with over 150 years of combined indoor play experience between them with the aim of creating a specific and targeted vehicle to represent the smaller operators in this specialised sector.
AIP are Members of UK Hospitality, with whom we act to advise on government legislation for indoor play.