We are calling on the government to put the health of our nation at the heart of this Budget, because it will need the fitness and leisure sector more than ever
– Huw Edwards
Hundreds of gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres have been forced to close and thousands more are at risk unless they receive urgent, tailored, financial and regulatory support from the government.
The warning comes from industry body, ukactive, ahead of chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing his budget on Wednesday 3 March.
ukactive estimates that around 400 facilities across the UK have already been forced to close, due to the financial pressures caused by lockdown and operating restrictions, such as social distancing measures which reduce capacity.
The figure is based on a ukactive survey of UK facility operators representing more than 1,800 sites. These businesses estimated that 39 per cent of their facilities are at risk of permanent closure.
This means that, despite the support offered by the government’s furlough scheme, public leisure fund, and the moratorium on evictions because of unpaid rent, vital facilities have already been lost.
ukactive's own projections point to a loss of a third of the UK’s fitness and leisure facilities (around 2,400 sites), along with up to 100,000 jobs, unless there is bespoke support in the Budget.
This, says ukactive, would put at risk 17.1 million users annually and 10 million members who rely on fitness and leisure facilities to stay active.
Losing so many facilities would also put under threat £450m worth of annual savings, by preventing 30 million additional GP visits. This is because the sector helps prevent 900,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes and 1.5 million back pain cases every year, with a combined saving of £4.1bn.
ukactive is calling for the chancellor to include four measures of support in his budget.
These are a VAT cut to 5 per cent – in line with the current concessions for hospitality – and financial support for operators for back-dated rent which will be due once the moratorium ends at the end of the financial year.
ukactive also wants to see an extension to the business rate holiday for physical activity and leisure until March 2022, as well as a wider public leisure recovery fund, covering additional periods of closure beyond those originally covered.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “With facilities closed for the entire first quarter of 2021, and total lost revenue estimated to be more than £90m a week, it is vital that the uncertainty around the sector’s financial position is addressed, so facilities can plan to reopen their doors from 12 April.
“We are calling on the Government to put the health of our nation at the heart of this Budget, because it will need the fitness and leisure sector more than ever during our recovery from this health crisis.
“Thousands of gyms, pools and leisure facilities are yet to receive any bespoke support from the government, and this Budget marks the best opportunity to redress this, and invest in a sector which promises such strong health and economic returns.”