This year's UK government Spending Review, announced in Parliament by chancellor Rishi Sunak on 25 November, offers the physical activity sector opportunities to "transform communities", according to industry body, ukactive.
In his statement to Parliament, Sunak revealed the government's spending priorities and briefed MPs about the state of the UK economy. He also offered the latest forecasts for the UK's public finances – which have been battered by the pandemic.
According to Sunak, the UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.3 per cent this year – the largest fall for more than 300 years. Unemployment is expected to reach 7.5 per cent by summer 2021, with 2.6 million people out of work.
The UK is, however, expected to return to pre-crisis levels of economic output by the fourth quarter of 2022.
Measures to aid recovery, announced by Sunak, include cutting the overseas aid budget by about £4bn and diverting it to create a new £4bn "levelling up" fund, which will pay for upgrading local infrastructure across the UK.
A further £220m will be allocated to help local areas prepare for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The new fund will replace the European Union structural funding, following the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of this year.
The Health budget in England will also rise by £6bn, including an extra £500m for mental health services.
For business struggling with the pandemic, there was some positive news as the rates multiplier will be frozen for the 2021-22 financial year.
Responding to the announcements, Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, highlighted the role the physical activity sector can play in the UK's economic recovery.
“Today’s Spending Review offers opportunities for our sector to support the transformation of communities and especially to shape the future of the high street, through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the Levelling Up Fund," Edwards said.
“Our challenging economic forecast requires the Chancellor to look for the greatest return on investment for the funding decisions he makes.
“In this respect, the fitness and leisure sector provides a unique proposition, given that it can drive both economic and health benefits, avoiding any trade-off between the two.
“The latest evidence from Sport England and Sheffield Hallam University shows a return of £4 for every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity.
“We want to work with the Government on a plan to put sport and physical activity at the heart of the nation’s renewal.
“We would like to see a tailored support package for the sector that not only includes funding, but also stimulus to encourage growth in 2021 – a combination of business rate relief, VAT exemptions, and incentives that drive more people back into activity.
“This moment represents a real opportunity to invest in a sector that can provide a major return on investment for our nation’s economic, social, mental and physical health,” said Edwards.