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Cole-Hamilton tackles inflatable course in plea for business bounce-back support

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton used inflatable course to urge support to help businesses bounce back. (Lesley Martin/PA)
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton used inflatable course to urge support to help businesses bounce back. (Lesley Martin/PA)

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted the plight of businesses recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic as he tackled the world’s longest soft play assault course.

The Edinburgh Western MSP said children’s soft play centres were among the businesses most affected by coronavirus restrictions, and he called on the Scottish Government to take more action to help them bounce back.

Mr Cole-Hamilton was speaking at the launch of the Tartan Titan, which now holds the record as the largest inflatable assault course, with his family, at Conifox Adventure Park, Edinburgh.

As he undertook challenges similar to those seen in TV shows Gladiators and Total Wipeout, Mr Cole-Hamilton said children’s play centres were left behind during the pandemic.

He said: “They weren’t seen as hospitality. They weren’t educational so they didn’t get government funding, and some have really struggled to get up to speed.”

Alex Cole Hamilton, centre right, was at the launch of the Conifox inflatable obstacle course in Edinburgh
Alex Cole Hamilton, centre right, was at the launch of the Conifox inflatable obstacle course in Edinburgh (Conifox/PA)

Asked if there had been adequate financial support for businesses during the pandemic, he said: “I don’t think the Scottish Government fully realises the implications of the measures that they asked, particularly children’s soft play centres, to introduce during Covid.

“It was leaving business owners to scramble around and come up with new ideas to come back up to speed.”

Soft play centres in Scotland were closed at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020 and many were among the last businesses to reopen over virus prevention concerns.

Mr Cole-Hamilton called for further measures to help businesses recover from the pandemic as many grapple with workforce crises.

He said speeding up the process for Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum in Scotland would be a solution.

“We need to recognise that there are massive workforce shortages, particularly in hospitality,” he said.

Assessing refugees’ skills quickly or connecting them with organisations could help, he said.

He also said the impact of lockdown must be reflected in business rates and he called for the powers over rates to be given to local authorities.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that “more than £4.7 billion in support has been provided by the Scottish Government to businesses since the beginning of the pandemic, including around £1.6 billion in rates relief which includes a continuation of 50% retail, hospitality, and leisure rates relief for the first three months of 2022-23, capped at £27,500 per ratepayer”.

“The Strategic Framework Business Fund (SFBF) provided grants to businesses required to close by law or to significantly change their operation due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Soft play centres were eligible and received restart grants of up to £19,500 – equivalent to more than six months support provided by SFBF every four weeks,” the spokesman said.

“One-off grants were also provided to soft play centres of up to £50,000, based upon rateable value, through the Covid-19 Contingency Fund.”