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Health and fitness services remain at risk

The latest survey of ukactive’s members reveals the ongoing pressures of high energy costs on the physical activity sector.

Nearly 40% (2 in 5) of leisure centres and other publicly operated fitness facilities are considering reducing services or closing sites entirely by March, due to ongoing high energy costs.

ukactive’s energy risk survey* received responses from public sector operators across 164 council areas in the UK and from private sector operators representing a total of 801 sites.

It found that three quarters (75%) of private facilities are extremely likely to have to increase their customer pricing in the next six months, with 87.5% having already been forced to raise prices over the past year to cope with high operating costs. Continued price increases would not be a sustainable solution for businesses or for consumers.

In some cases, the rising cost of energy has increased operators bills by more than 200%.

Nearly half (43.8%) of the privately owned facilities that responded said they will be forced to consider making redundancies within the next six months. Half (50%) of the respondents said they have already reduced their staff numbers within the 12 months prior to September 2023.

Government support has been provided in the form of an Energy Bill Discount Scheme that was announced in April this year. However, only 9.6% of public sector respondents that received support said the scheme had made a significant impact in improving the risk rating for their facility.

Support for some public sector operators came in the form of the Swimming Pool Support Fund announced in March, however, demand has greatly outstripped supply, with less than 50% of applicants successful. Many other providers, such as those in the private sector and those without pools, were not eligible.

In August, the Government announced its ‘Get Active’ strategy for sport and physical activity, which laid out ambitious targets to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030.

Yet, with continued financial pressures forcing operators to make staff cuts, reduce essential services such as swimming classes and health programmes, or even close permanently, the survey findings highlight the ongoing risk to the sector and, consequently, the nation’s health and wellbeing.

Closures have been reported across the regions, with local communities rallying to call on MPs and the Government to do more to support local authorities and local businesses.

ukactive has shared its findings with the Government and has set out its asks in a letter to the Chancellor and a full submission ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “The Government’s ambition to get millions more people active can only be achieved if continued business support is provided to gyms, pools, and leisure facilities, alongside detailed plans to drive growth in the use of services.

“Our nation’s gyms, pools and leisure centres represent the engine room of physical activity in the UK, but our survey shows that many services remain under threat from high energy costs.

“Operators are doing everything to avoid passing these costs onto customers, but continuing pressure means service reductions, price rises, and redundancies are highly likely, which will only exacerbate health inequalities.

“If we do not ensure the survival and growth of these facilities with targeted measures, it will have serious implications for the nation’s health, the NHS, and the economy in terms of workforce illness.”

Three key areas for Government investment:

  1. Accelerate the delivery of Phase 2 of the Swimming Pool Support Fund, which will support public leisure operators to deliver greater energy efficiency within their facilities.
  2. Reduce operating cost pressures in the next two fiscal announcements and help stabilise the sector through the Autumn Statement this month and the Budget in March. This should include continuing the business rates support next year – with a freeze on the business rates multiplier and extension of the relief for a further year, at 75%.
  3. Drive participation to help tackle our growing health crisis, with rising obesity levels, nearly 8 million people on NHS waiting lists and long-term sickness from work at record levels. The Government should back the work ukactive is leading with other industry partners to integrate our members’ services into the NHS and to incentivise greater participation overall.

*The survey, conducted in September, asked operators a series of questions, including grading their risk of service restrictions (such as reduced opening times, pool temperatures, classes) or risk of closures, based on the following categories:

Red – Unsecure: at risk of closure up to 31 March 2024

Amber – Unsecure: at risk of reduced services up to 31 March 2024

Green – Secure: no risk of closure and/or reduced services up to 31 March 2024

 

 

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