Rank boss hits out over bingo club closures - Tuesday 9th of September 2008

Ian Burke, the chief executive of bingo and casino group Rank, has hit out at Labours "myopic and inconsistent policy-making", joining the chorus of leisure bosses publicly criticising Gordon Browns Government.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Burke said he has much in common with Giles Thorley, the chief executive of Punch Taverns, and JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin.

Last week, the chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, called for a five-year suspension of beer duty increases.

Giles Thorley, chief executive of Britains biggest pub company, Punch Taverns, supported calls for Chancellor Alistair Darling to resign.

And according to the Beer and Pub Association, 36 pubs closed every week during the first half of this year.

The pub sector is struggling to cope with the burden of red tape, higher alcohol duties and falling customer numbers as the credit crisis bites.

“At Rank, we too have suffered from the present Government’s inconsistent approach to regulating and taxing leisure businesses and believe that our financial pain foreshadows a deeper and more damaging societal impact,” Mr Burke said.

He said Rank, which runs more than 100 bingo clubs as well as 32 casinos, had been entertaining Britons since the 1930s.

“As with the pub industry, our primary aim is to bring excitement and enjoyment to the lives of our customers in social and safe environments outside the home. We employ more than 8,000 people, who take pride in what they do for a living and we generate significant revenues for the economy, at both a local and a national level.”

In 2007, Rank’s operations generated £166m for the Exchequer and local government in VAT, gambling duties, income tax, national insurance and local business rates – dwarfing its post-tax profits of £33m.

Despite such contributions Mr Burke said: “In recent years our industry has found itself under increasing financial pressure as a result of government policies. Since the start of 2007, 59 bingo clubs in Britain have been forced into closure by heavy-handed regulation and the oppressive ‘double taxation’ system”, with bingo the only mainstream gambling product paying both gross profits tax and VAT.

“The creation of new jobs through further investment in this sector has been stifled by myopic and inconsistent policy-making,” Mr Burke said.

He accepted that “the closures of some community pubs and bingo clubs reflect changes to the ways that we live our lives (particularly in our use of the internet) and the attendant expansion of homebased leisure.”

However, he warned: “We need to be careful that these trends, combined with the closures of leisure businesses, do not lead to disconnected communities and a society that is increasingly hermetic.

“The leisure retail industry plays an important and underestimated role in bringing people together outside the home to share safely in social experiences that are enjoyable and stimulating.

“The Government has forgotten its duty to champion and support the leisure industry and has instead hastened the closure of hundreds of pubs and clubs.”

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