Coronavirus: LGA warns leisure providers falling between support packages

Leisure providers which provide vital sport and cultural services for communities are facing crisis point without access to emergency government funding or support, the Local Government Association warns today.

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The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Oliver Dowden MP, calling for the Government to ensure leisure trusts have access to key funding to safeguard services.

It says leisure providers – many of whom are charities – must be able to access the new £750 million grant-based package for the charity and social enterprise sector.

Councils are working hard to keep supporting leisure providers and facilities during the coronavirus crisis. This includes by introducing a range of emergency measures such as relaxing performance requirements, advance payments, waiving management fees and offering financial support. This is despite the impact coronavirus has had on the ability of councils to generate income. 

Local authorities are responsible for a third of swimming pools, 31 per cent of grass pitches; 13 per cent of sports halls; and almost of fifth of all health and fitness facilities.

With the average monthly leisure utility and energy bill costing £44,000 alone, the LGA is calling on the Government and utility companies to also agree a short-term reduction or waiving of standing charges for energy and water.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Councils are deeply concerned about the future of leisure trusts, who are charities, societies or community interest companies.

“Leisure facilities provide an affordable space for our communities to exercise and socialise with family and friends. They play a key role in improving our communities’ physical and mental wellbeing.

“If we do not act to save these vital community resources, it will cost us much more in the long-term both socially and economically. It is vital that government works with councils and leisure providers to identify any potential funding to avoid reaching a crisis point.”

Steven Scales, Client Services Director at ukactive, said: “Partnerships between local authorities and their leisure operators have never been more important, with each facing huge financial pressures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let there be no doubt; every city and town are facing the loss of vital community leisure facilities which are crucial for the physical, mental and social health of their residents. Our leisure centres are the places where our children learn to swim, our communities gather to meet, and our family and friends recover from injury or illness – we cannot let them disappear.”

Notes to editors

  1. LGA’s letter to the Secretary of State for DCMS.
  1. The LGA is also supporting local authorities with advice on how they can best support leisure providers and ensure facilities are able to reopen when social distancing measures are relaxed. The advice is being developed with partners ukactive and Community Leisure UK. View the LGA’s advice note to local authorities.
  1. Community Leisure UK who represents leisure and culture trusts, who are charities, societies or Community Interest Companies (with an asset lock), estimates the average monthly utility and energy costs alone is £44,000, this figure is much higher once salaries, pensions, maintenance and other charges are added.