Urgent support for public sport and leisure services

Leisure centres and swimming pools are more than a lifestyle choice, they are a vital service, but the sector is facing an extraordinary financial crisis. Without Government support, local leisure services and their benefits will disappear.

Public sport and leisure services across the country are facing an extraordinary financial crisis, due to ongoing impacts from COVID-19, the cost of living, and the energy crisis. On top of this, leisure services and swimming pools haven't been made eligible for extra support from the Energy and Trade Intensive Industries scheme and the Energy Bills Discount Scheme.

Without the Government’s support it is anticipated that 40 per cent of council areas will lose their leisure centres or will see reduced services before 31 March 2023, and three quarters (74 per cent) of council areas are classified as ‘unsecure’, meaning there is risk of the closure of leisure centres or reduced services before 31 March 2024.

Facility closures will have unintended consequences on the Government’s commitment to protect vulnerable communities and vital public services, reduce inequalities and grow the economy.

Leisure centres and swimming pools are more than a lifestyle choice, they are a vital service.

We are calling on councils’ support to help us demonstrate to the Government why it should be providing urgent support to swimming pools and leisure centres, why it should recognise the sector as a vital public service, and support its recovery and transformation. We have created a template letter for councils to send to their MP to highlight why these services are so important to their communities and what is at risk if we lose these facilities.

If you would like to receive the template letter please contact [email protected]

February 2023

The LGA alongside a coalition of more than 200 bodies and individuals from the world of health, sport, recreation, and leisure, have called on the Prime Minister for urgent intervention and greater support for grassroots facilities and clubs.

January 2023

Why is this important? 

Our national public sport and leisure sector is more than a lifestyle choice. It provides an essential service to communities, to public services and to the public purse:

  • It provides affordable opportunities for 8.9 million users annually to be active and is especially important for users in more deprived areas who prefer to exercise in a leisure centre over other informal settings. Fourteen million swimmers a year would have nowhere else to swim without their local pool. Swimming saves the health system £357 million per year.
  • The NHS’ performance relies on leisure facilities to deliver its services - two thirds of cancer rehabilitation services and 79 per cent of social prescribing initiatives are delivered in leisure centres.
  • 72 per cent of schools use public swimming pools to deliver their statutory responsibility for learning to swim and the water safety curriculum. Seventy-five per cent of grassroots sports clubs rely on public leisure centres to operate.
  • Savings accrued from being physically active amounts to £9.5 billion per year. £5.2 billion of this is in healthcare savings and £1.7 billion is in social care savings. A further £20 billion of value comes from stronger and safer communities.
  • It provides an estimated 585,000 jobs in the UK, providing opportunities for young people who make up a large proportion of the paid workforce: 45 per cent are aged 16-24 and 21 per cent are aged 25-34.

However, all of this is at risk if the Government does not act now to save public swimming pools and leisure centres, which are facing the following extraordinary financial challenges:

  • Since 2019, evidence from leisure providers shows energy bills have risen by 300 per cent.
  • Income and customer’s return to leisure centres is below pre-COVID-19  levels.
  • The cost of living crisis is seeing more people having to make tough decisions about whether or not they can afford to continue paying for leisure centre membership.
  • Swimming pools and leisure centres have been excluded from the list of sectors eligible for higher support under the Government’s Energy and Trade Intensive Industries scheme.
  • Increases in the National Living Wage and associated pay differentials, the need to pay more to recruit and retain skilled personnel.
  • Wider inflationary pressures in terms of the cost of goods, services and chemicals.
  • Two thirds of the public leisure estate is ageing and past its expected lifespans or overdue refurbishment. Making many facilities energy inefficient, costly to run and accounting for between 10 to 40 percent of a council’s direct carbon emissions.

Without urgent support, closures are inevitable. According to a ukactive survey in November 2022:

  • 40 per cent of council areas will see their leisure centres close or services reduce before 31 March 2023.
  • Three quarters (74 per cent) of council areas are classified as ‘unsecure’, meaning there is risk of closure or reduced services before 31 March 2024.

That is why, we are calling on the Government to recognise the value of public sport and leisure services as a vital public service, to show their support for public swimming pools and leisure centres and to unlock the sector’s potential by:

  • Reclassifying swimming pools and leisure centres as energy intensive as part of Energy Bills Discount Scheme so they have access to the higher level of discount on energy prices.                              
  • Set out what tangible support it will provide to the wider sector – including gyms and sports facilities – to help navigate the energy crisis across 2023 so that service restrictions and facility closures can be minimised. 
  • Set out a “plan for the growth” for the sector by aligning the proposed new Sports Strategy with the Spring Budget to unlock the potential of the sector to support the economic, health, and social wellbeing of the nation.