Work with us on energy prices, leisure sector urges government

The government has been warned that rising energy costs could pose a threat to the nation’s health and wellbeing as ‘vulnerable’ swimming pools and leisure centers are at ‘major risk of closure’ “.

ukactive says the energy crisis has hit the fitness and leisure sector at a time when facilities are still recovering from losses suffered during forced closures and reduced attendance caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Based on evidence collected from public and private sector operators, ukactive claims that operators with swimming pools will see their bills increase by up to 150%.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, has now written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for more support for the facilities – while Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson backed the appeal in a bid to secure the long-term future term of swimming pools.

ukactive estimates that combined gas and electricity costs for 2022 will see energy bills rise to between £1bn and £1.25bn, up from around £500m in 2019.

While acknowledging that fluctuating energy prices remain difficult to manage, ukactive called on the government to provide two key areas of support that are within its control to help the sector:

  • A VAT exemption – granted to other sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic – has finally been extended to sports halls. This would help ease some of the cost pressures they face, including a resolution to commercial rent arrears, which provides for “equitable burden sharing” between commercial tenants and landlords.
  • Local and central government must work with public leisure operators to not only address the short-term financial pressures they face – exacerbated by the operation of swimming pools – but come up with a long-term strategy to keep them open.

Jane said the investment to secure the future of swimming pools would be money well spent, as water activity helps save the health and social care system more than £357m a year.

She added: “Swimming pools are important hubs in our communities, helping millions of people learn a vital lifelong skill while ensuring that people of all ages can stay active, reducing the pressures on our NHS.

“However, they are particularly vulnerable to huge increases in energy prices due to the costs associated with heating large amounts of water, especially our aging facilities which are often not as energy efficient as swimming pools built today.

extremely concerned

“That’s why it’s more important than ever for the government to work with us to secure the future of our swimming pools and leisure centres, now and for the long term.

Mr Edwards added: “The government should be extremely concerned about the health and economic impact of the energy crisis on fitness and leisure operators.

“Rising energy costs will have a disproportionate impact on our industry, particularly larger, energy-intensive gyms and leisure centers with swimming pools, which are now at major risk of closure.

“Our members will want to avoid passing these cost pressures on to their customers, especially given the rising cost of living, but that could become unavoidable.

“These facilities are key to supporting the achievement of the Government’s ‘race to the top’ ambitions, which contain ambitious targets for both healthy life expectancy and well-being.

“They help tens of millions of people get active every week, so protecting them should be a priority.

“Furthermore, we do not want to see a situation where vital community facilities continue to struggle as we prepare to host the Commonwealth Games this summer.

“Such a situation would undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Games themselves, raising difficult questions about the heritage value of hosting such an event.”

ukactive’s evidence is supported by a separate investigation into public leisure trusts from Community Leisure UK (CLUK) which revealed an average energy bill of £3.2m per organization in 2022, a 113% increase from an average cost in 2019 of £1.5m.

CLUK also found that due to the high energy consumption of swimming pools, a subsidy of £5 per visit would be needed to meet increased operating costs for 2022-23.

To show your support for your local swimming pool, recreation center or sports club, write to your MP.

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