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05 Jan 2021

UK gym industry calls for sector-specific government financial support
BY Tom Walker

The lockdown will keep gyms, sports facilities and leisure centres closed 'until at least mid-February'

The lockdown will keep gyms, sports facilities and leisure centres closed 'until at least mid-February'
photo: Michael D Edwards

ukactive has called on the UK government to draft a new National Physical Activity Plan and provide further sector-specific financial protection for operators in the activity sector, to support the industry through the UK's third lockdown.

CEO, Huw Edwards, said: "The UK government must protect this sector with a robust National Physical Activity Plan that supports the immediate survival of operators, their recovery as we reopen and the fulfilment of their longer-term potential to support the health of the people of this country."

Edwards said a package was also needed, to include things such as financial support for back-dated rent which will be due once the moratorium ends in March, a VAT rebate and an extension of the business rate holiday beyond March 2021.

"The government must recognise that January and February represent a vital period for gyms, pools, and leisure facilities to trade and appreciate that they currently have zero income," he said, "unlike other sectors which can sell goods online or on a takeaway basis.

“While we welcome the further support from the Chancellor, the top-up grants and funding pots will not be sufficient to save our sector’s facilities and jobs, particularly once shared across the retail, hospitality and leisure industries, as this will be no more than a sticking plaster for the financial challenges being faced.

“Gyms and leisure centres throughout the UK will find it unsustainable to operate on zero income with this limited funding. The current measures do not go far enough, and as the length of lockdown is not yet determined, it makes it impossible to plan for when revenue will start to come in again.

“Operators of all sizes across the UK are sounding the alarm that their businesses are unsustainable and facing substantial job losses if they do not get a comprehensive package of tailored financial and regulatory support.

"They must be prioritised and protected, or we risk widespread business failures," he said. “We are in dialogue with the Government to provide the latest impact modelling of this lockdown but the sector is on a cliff edge and more support needs to be given.”

Edwards added that the threat of a reduction in the number of physical activity facilities carries a serious public health risk and would have major health impacts for a generation.

“We know from the millions of people that depend on gyms, pools, and leisure centres to support their physical and mental health, how essential they are," he stressed.

"We also know that despite positive encouragement from the government, physical activity levels fell sharply and significantly during previous lockdowns, highlighting the true value of our gyms, pools and leisure centres in keeping people active.

“We cannot afford to wait until the vaccine rollout is advanced before we act," said Edwards, "so the Government must explore all options at this time and provide a credible Physical Activity Plan for maintaining support to the many millions of people who rely on these COVID-secure facilities to stay strong and healthy."

* Research from the Sheffield Hallam University and Sport England, published in September 2020 showed that for every £1 the government invests in physical activity gives a return of £4.




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