NICOLA Sturgeon has defended the continued closure of soft play centres in large parts of Scotland despite growing desperation from owners worried about going bust.

The First Minister admitted there were “apparent anomalies” in the rules, but said the centres continued to “pose a risk” of Covid spread.

She was speaking after soft play owners staged a protest outside Holyrood to highlight their plight.

Every centre in Scotland was shut at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, but those in level 1 areas have been allowed to reopen.

Centres in level 2 warn the sector will be “no more” if they cannot start trading again soon.

Owners are threatening legal action if the government does not publish scientific evidence that say soft plays are unsafe to open.

Updating MSPs on the state of the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon was asked about soft plays by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

Mr Ross said: “What are the specific reasons for the on-going restrictions on soft play centres? Owners of soft play centres are currently protesting outside and they will be listening closely to her answer.”

He also asked if she would re-examine capacity limits on weddings and funerals in Level 2 areas given many events were planned on higher limits in earlier Government’s advice.

She replied: “The Government’s clinical advice is that the indoor environment of soft play centres - there is a big difference between indoor and outdoor environments - coupled with their particular characteristics, means that soft play centres continue to pose a risk. 

“Of course, soft play centres in level 1 areas can reopen, and we hope that more parts of the country will go to level 1 over the next few weeks. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy set out our intention to continue to provide financial support in the meantime.”

Mr Sarwar said the soft play industry believed there was an “inconsistency in decision making” given centres had been able to open across England last month, and asked if Ms Sturgeon would meet businesses “so that they can safely re-open premises in level 2 areas”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I recognise that people see perceived inconsistencies. Sometimes they will be right. Sometimes the inconsistency will be perceived - for example, there is a good reason why soft play cannot open in level 2 areas while other things can.

“I understand that running a business that has to remain closed will always be very difficult to accept. I appreciate that, but it is important that we try to navigate our way through this as safely as possible.”

Mr Ross said later: “The First Minister’s statement was telling for what it missed out and who it ignored. It had nothing, not a single shred of new information, for soft play centres, hospitality businesses, couples waiting to get married or parents hoping to see their young children graduate from nursery.

“The First Minister said herself there are ‘apparent anomalies’ in the rules – but she didn’t signal any intent to fix the deep frustrations those anomalies are causing. There are no easy solutions but the public deserve better than being told to just put up with contradictory rules.”