Future secure for Scottish bingo business with ten venues and 200 staff after milestone move

More than 200 staff at a Scottish bingo chain now have a stake in the business after it became one of the largest firms to switch to employee ownership.

The ten-venue Carlton Bingo chain has made the move following a “positive rebound” after the challenges and closures brought about by the pandemic.

The company, which operates venues in Inverness, Stirling, Livingston, Dunfermline, Buckie, Elgin, Fraserburgh, Dalkeith, East Kilbride and Partick in Glasgow, has now put its shares into an employee ownership trust (EOT). The move sees staff given a controlling stake in the business.

The four major shareholders - Chris Barr, George Carter, Brian King and Peter Perrins - decided to transition the business into employee ownership after considering their succession options.

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The four have been involved in the bingo industry for most of their careers and are said to have been driven to find an exit option that lessened any disruption to staff and customers.

Carter said: “It might sound like a cliché but we are very much like a family business here. The sale to an EOT fitted exactly with what we wanted.

“We have to wait a few years to realise our full value, but we judged that to be a risk worth taking to preserve all that’s good about Carlton for our customers and our staff.

“A management buyout was a real possibility - our management team are hugely respected within the business - but that really only defers the problem of succession. By transferring the shareholding to an EOT, the future of Carlton Bingo is secure for our loyal staff and customers.”

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Carlton Bingo operates venues in Inverness, Stirling, Livingston, Dunfermline, Buckie, Elgin, Fraserburgh, Dalkeith, East Kilbride and Partick in Glasgow.

The chain’s managing director, Mike Watret, took what he viewed as a temporary job upon graduating from Stirling University in 1991. He then went on to have a successful career with Gala Bingo and returned to Carlton ten years ago.

Watret said: “I didn’t expect to be back here 30 years later. It’s a great job working with a great team of people.”

The business was hit significantly during lockdown, with one club being closed for a total of 400 days.

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“We have recovered well from what was a challenging time,” added Watret. “Eight of our ten locations exceeded their targets for March and several are outperforming their 2019 results. This is testament to the hard work and loyalty of our staff who have done a sterling job in ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for our customers.”

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates, who worked with directors on the programme of employee communication, said: “It was a fabulous experience meeting so many employees who are so loyal to their company and genuinely enjoy their jobs.

“The idea of employee ownership was largely unknown by most of the staff, but once explained, was recognised as a generous gesture by the former shareholders.”

The transaction was managed by Avondale Corporate and Douglas Roberts and Nimarta Cheema of Lindsays provided the legal advice.

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Roberts said: “It’s encouraging to see a company of the scale of Carlton Bingo adopting employee ownership, proving it’s an option that fits with businesses of all sizes.”

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