Community Leisure UK, ukactive and CIMSPA, have launched a joint campaign #saveleisure to highlight that nearly half of all public leisure facilities in the UK face permanent closure by the end of the year, unless Local Authorities receive urgent ring-fenced funding from the Government to overcome the enormous financial impact of the Covid-19 lockdown period and its legacy.
We are calling on Local Authorities, MP/MS/MSPs, other stakeholders and the public to back our campaign #saveleisure, and to lobby the Government for specific fixed term financial support to ensure we do not lose community leisure services across the UK. This funding would proportionally support public leisure across the devolved nations using the Barnett consequential.
Public leisure centres, swimming pools and community services are predominantly delivered through non profit distributing trusts (represented by Community Leisure UK) and in-house Local Authority departments. Combined, all public leisure providers face a shortfall of more than £800m this financial year (2020–21) and most providers are not eligible for the Government financial support packages currently available.
There are 2,800 public leisure facilities in the UK, plus a significant number of facilities provided by independent community led non profit distributing trusts, employing over 76,000 full-time staff, in addition to freelance exercise instructors and casual workers such as personal trainers. We estimate that 48% of all public leisure facilities face closure, meaning as many as 1,300 could disappear by the end of the year, along with more than 58,000 jobs.
Although community leisure facilities and services can legally reopen from 25 July in England and legal reopening dates are expected to follow for Wales and Scotland, up to 35% will not be able to reopen due to the exceptional increased costs resulting from lost income during the lockdown period and due to operating at reduced capacity to comply with social distancing measures for an unspecified period. We have called for specific Government financial support to compensate for this, but to date this has not been forthcoming despite other sectors receiving funding, for example the much welcomed £1.6bn to arts and culture.
Local Authorities are facing unprecedented pressures due to Covid-19, and non-statutory services such as public leisure are therefore particularly at risk. Leisure services are often subsidised, particularly in deprived areas, to ensure the offer serves the needs of the whole community. Rather than generating large cash reserves, non profit distributing providers, such as those represented by Community Leisure UK, reinvest any surplus revenue to develop the offer for community benefit; these services are therefore vital to help close the inequalities gap.
- Services many public leisure facilities provide have a positive impact on educational attainment, economic productivity, reducing crime and loneliness, and engaging inactive and disadvantaged communities.
- Latest figures from 4global via Data Hub research indicate that public leisure provision contributes £3.8bn in social value to the UK (England, Scotland and Wales) every year, measured through savings to the NHS as well as improved wellbeing and mental health.
- Public leisure facilities provide services in the most deprived areas of the UK and therefore play a vital role for people from lower socio-economic groups who are 18% less likely to be active than people from the most affluent groups.
- Current participation trends indicate that people from BAME backgrounds would be disproportionately affected with the loss of public leisure facilities.
Letters have been sent to MP/MS/MSPs from Community Leisure UK, ukactive and leisure trust Chief Executives to outline the dire financial position that public operators face this financial year, and the need for the Government to provide ring-fenced funding to support Local Authorities to maintain vital community leisure assets and services that are so important to community health and wellbeing. Delay by the Government to a commitment to specific fixed term financial support will risk the loss of the following services:
- Swimming pools, including children’s swimming lessons.
- Facilities and services for sports clubs, community groups, particularly older people, BAME communities, religious groups, female-only groups, and schools.
- Specialist physical activity referral and social prescribing services which help manage long-term conditions, rehabilitation and prehab.
Mark Tweedie, Chief Executive of Community Leisure UK, said:
“We have worked with our partners ukactive, CIMSPA and others to provide compelling evidence demonstrating the financial issues and catastrophic consequences for leisure services. The situation is becoming time critical as we anxiously wait for a response from the Government.
Whilst leisure providers have worked very hard to ready facilities for safe reopening we want to make the public and our stakeholders fully aware that the nation’s cherished public leisure services remain at risk, because many Local Authorities will not be capable of financially sustaining them without specific Government financial support which we have requested.
Public leisure centres feature at the heart of communities – they are places where communities connect to socialize and have fun, they serve all age ranges and abilities, from parents with babies, through to sports clubs, walking groups and gentle exercise classes.
They play an essential part in supporting health and wellbeing and therefore reduce unmanageable escalating costs to the NHS and social services, and in these remarkable times, they will be vital to help millions of people maintain their physical and mental health, and build resilience to, and rehabilitate from, Covid-19.
Communities without leisure centres are unimaginable, so we are reaching out to everyone to unite behind our #saveleisure campaign for specific fixed term Government support to save our leisure facilities and community services.”
Tara Dillon, Chief Executive of CIMSPA, said:
“Leisure is a sector that creates enormous economic, health, social and community benefits, but it is one of the last to reopen.
This has created huge financial challenges and we urge the Government to provide this additional targeted financial support to protect these public leisure facilities which are at serious risk of closure.
If they are allowed to close, communities up and down the country will lose vital facilities, and we will lose many thousands of jobs among the talented and dedicated leisure workforce.”
Huw Edwards, Chief Executive of ukactive, said:
“COVID-19 has been devastating to the fitness and leisure sector. This is a health crisis, and a secure and thriving sector will be crucial in supporting the nation’s health, wellbeing and recovery.
That is why we are calling on the Government to provide crucial support for the entire sector by delivering urgent assistance through regulation and taxation, as well as the vital financial investment needed to keep our essential facilities in operation.
As part of this call, we have urged the Government to save public leisure by committing to an immediate £800m investment to address both the period of closure, and also the recovery as facilities reopen. Now, more than ever, the nation cannot afford to lose these vital community assets”