OWNERS OF Scotland's struggling soft play centres are angry that they have been placed in the same tier as night clubs according to Covid restrictions and are calling for a rethink.

They are still fighting to be open by Christmas - having been shut down since March.

Soft play centres were allowed to re-open in Wales on August 10, in England on August 15, and in Northern Ireland on September 14.

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There was some hope for centre owners on Tuesday as the Scottish Government announced up to £50,000 will be available to businesses in both nightclubs and soft play centres through the Covid-19 Contingency Fund. Grants will be based on rateable value.

But there remains anger that across Scotland play centres are in the same ‘high risk’ category as nightclubs, casinos and theatres and being treated differently to nurseries and schools. Under-12s, who are the lifeblood of soft play centres, unlike other age groups, do not have to physically distance outdoors under Covid guidelines because it is felt they are a lower risk.

Alan Arnott, who founded the Pandamonium Soft Play Centre in Erskine in a warehouse eight years ago and built a business with a £1m turnover and 33 staff, said the new money would help fend off closure in the immediate term.

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But Mr Arnott, one of the organisers of Save Scottish Indoor Play said he could not believe that soft play were being treated differently primary schools, and criticised Scotland's national clinical director Jason Leitch for saying that the industry was less regulated in a briefing last week. He also raise concerns that Mr Leitch indicated that there was a greater risk from licking of equipment."

"We should be open, one hundred per cent. We are a primary school and a cafe amalgamated. We have the safeguards. Why are we treated differently.

"There is no scientific reason that we are shut and primary schools are not. How can we be classed like night clubs.

"Our aim though is to be open before Xmas. "But as per the Scottish Government Guidance, we are currently closed with no date to re-open."

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Mr Leitch when asked about the issue said last week: "We are trying to strike that balance by allowing more regulated activity to continue, and for unregulated activity to close first.

"Nurseries are cleaning those licked items, and not sharing as many toys as they might have previously and are being careful.

"Now clearly kids are not distancing and there is some chaos in that environment, of course there is, but it is regulated, very strong guidance, good mitigations in place, and we have to trust that that is being followed.

"Soft play is another layer, it is slightly more casual, it is slightly less regulated, and it is also slightly more optional. It is not required for childcare... But it is an important industry. "Guidance is being developed. It won't indicate that softplays will be open at a date, but will allow softplay to work hard to get to a point where mitigations are strong, and then we hope as prevelance falls, as we move down the tiers, perhaps in some parts of Scotland, softplay will be one of the areas will be one of the areas considered for opening. But it is not yet appropriate to open softplays."

The financial help from the Scottish Govenrment came after owners protested outside Holyrood last month about their plight.

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The Scottish Government had proposed re-opening on September 14, but this was delayed to an indicative date of October 5, which has also now passed.

Over 10,000 have signed an online petition objecting to the restrictions on soft play.

Business minister Jamie Hepburn said in announcing the funding package said he recognised that nightclubs and soft play centres have been particularly badly hit by this pandemic.

Unlike the majority of businesses, they have not been allowed to open since March.

"These grants take account of those exceptional circumstances and will provide a boost as we continue to tackle the virus," he said.

“We don’t want any business to remain closed for a day longer than is necessary but public health is paramount. Unfortunately we are at a critical point with infection levels rising again and it is not safe to lift restrictions on these activities.

“Local authorities will be contacting businesses directly to get the information needed to progress their claim.”

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Funding has been made available for soft play centres and nightclubs through the £11 million Covid-19 Contingency Fund. This is part of the package of more than £40 million support for businesses affected by the latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Premises will not be eligible if they have opened at all since March – for example by changing their licence to open as a pub – and awards may be reduced if companies successfully apply to the Cultural Organisations and Venue Recovery Fund.