UK Government pledges £63m ‘vital lifeline’ for leisure centers and swimming pools

By Frances Marcelin March 15, 2023

Sport England to administer £63m fund to save swimming pools / ESB Professional/Shutterstock

In an announcement ahead of tomorrow’s spring budget (March 15) today, the UK government pledged £63m to support publicly owned swimming pools and leisure centers as part of a year-long scheme to ease pressure from high fuel bills.

The funding allocation was revealed by Sport England, which administers the fund, and will come as a huge relief to operators who have been struggling to stay open.

Local authorities and pools managed by contractors and charities on behalf of councils are eligible for support and can apply for funding to ease cost pressures related to operational, maintenance and energy costs, but one of the main purposes of the funding will be to make facilities bigger. energy efficient to avoid the need for future subsidies. There will be no support for private sector operators.

“This is significant and welcome support from the Government, which will offer a lifeline to many public leisure centers in England, as well as helping to sustain them for the future,” said Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of Sport England. “Swimming pools play a vital role in our communities and are extremely important in helping people to be physically active in their everyday lives.

“We know how difficult the current situation is and have worked hard to ensure these providers get the support they need. We will now focus our efforts to support the process over the coming weeks to distribute the funding available today to ensure it goes where it is needed most.”

There are more than 2,000 public leisure centers in England, more than 800 of which have swimming pools, but the economic impact of the energy crisis has forced around 350 facilities to limit services and close temporarily or permanently from October 2022.

“Rising bills are hitting us all hard and community pools have been thrown into the deep end,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt. “I know they are loved by millions and this vital bond will keep them afloat.”

In February 2023, a month before the funding and spring budget announcement, a coalition of more than 200 national health and sport bodies, fitness and leisure groups, athletes and celebrities signed a letter to the Prime Minister asking for support in the energy crisis. Demands in the letter included setting up support for the industry to overcome the energy crisis and drawing up a plan to grow the industry in line with the proposed new sports strategy and spring budget.

In response to the government’s funding scheme announcement today, UK Active chief executive Huw Edwards said: “We welcome the announcement of this financial support package, which will help those sectors of the industry most exposed to rising energy prices. We now support the Government and Sport England to direct this funding package to those facilities most in need, helping to maintain services and keep facilities open.

“Going forward, we will continue to share sector insights with government to monitor future energy price trends and work with them to ensure these facilities play their full role in helping to improve the nation’s health and well-being.”

Background of the crisis

In January 2023, the government reduced its support for businesses struggling with the energy crisis to £5.5 billion from 1 April 2023 (the previous scheme, from 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023, was £16 billion) : It was unclear why business activities such as museums, zoos and botanical gardens were classified as “energy intensive” and included under energy and commerce intensive industries, or ETIIs, when swimming pools and leisure centers were not, although since it turned out that government data shows. The size of the industries may have been out of date, showing the industry to be much smaller than it actually is.

At the time, UK Active chief executive Hugh Edwards said the implications of the new Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS) would be “brutal” and Active Partnerships, CIMSPA, the Local Government Association, the Sports and Leisure Alliance, along with “Sport for Development’ coalition, Swim England and the Youth Sport Trust have released a joint statement highlighting the need for economic support as part of the Energy Bill Discount Scheme (EBDS).

Late last year, UK Active confirmed that it receives daily reports of outages or service restrictions from across the leisure industry. Data from a survey in November 2022 showed that 40 per cent of the council’s leisure centers and swimming pools are at risk of closing by March 2023 without additional government funding.

For example, Freedom Leisure, a not-for-profit leisure and cultural trust, has raised more than £1 million a year since 2019 for three venues. pools went from £180,000 to £600,000 a year.

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