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Andy Burnham and shadow culture secretary call on government to safeguard physical activity sector funding

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We’ve seen a major bailout for the cultural sector but I think we need to make the case together to ensure a proper financial package for our gyms and leisure centres

Andy Burnham and shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens have joined Paralympic legend Tanni Grey-Thompson in calling on the government to support the physical activity sector by providing ring-fenced financial support.

Grey-Thompson, speaking at the launch of this year's ukactive National Summit, urged the Conservative government to hold urgent talks with leaders from the physical activity sector as the second national lockdown begins in England.

She warned that any failure to act during the November lockdown to save gyms and leisure facilities “could be a tragic missed opportunity”.

“There are many people all over the country who will have been thinking about how to get fitter and healthier, along with their families, and they would’ve been looking to our sector to support them during this tough winter to do that," Grey-Thompson said.

“It does feel like such a misstep that the Government has not heeded our strong and continuous calls to categorise our sector as essential and acknowledge the astonishing safety standards that our sector has sustained throughout this period.

"I fear this will have severe repercussions for the nation."

Her message was mirrored by Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who, during his speech at the summit, threw his full support behind the physical sector’s campaign to receive a tailored financial package and essential status.

Burnham – who recently took the government to task over the level of funding it offered to northern cities during Tier 3 Covid restrictions – said: "The level of financial support offered to the UK fitness and leisure industry hasn’t yet been anywhere near enough.

“I’ve met with fitness providers in Greater Manchester who tell me they are really struggling. We’ve seen a major bailout for the cultural sector but I think we need to make the case together to ensure a proper financial package for our gyms and leisure centres that are so critical to people right now.

“There’s very little evidence that gyms and leisure centres are sources of transmission [of COVID-19] and we know that particularly during a time when people are under restrictions, they are such an oasis for people to escape to as areas so beneficial to people’s mental health.

“We need to look at how we keep gyms and leisure centres open all of the time, and not have any doubts about that.”

Burnham and Grey-Thompson were joined by Jo Stevens, who used her speech at the summit to outline a five-point plan to increase the prominence of physical activity in society – including opening up existing community facilities for wider community participation, such as school sports facilities.

“We must make sure that improving health and wellbeing is a consideration in decision making across Government departments," she said.

"We must make sure that improving health and wellbeing is a consideration in decision making across Government departments.”

• This year's ukactive National Summit addresses the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our communities and showcase the ways in which the physical activity sector can support the nation’s long-term health, resilience, and recovery from the virus.

Normally a one-day conference, the event will this year be held as a series of free online sessions taking place every Wednesday throughout November.

The next session, titled "Measuring effective interventions in health", will take place on Wednesday 11 November. It will explore impactful research on the benefits of physical activity for health, economy and social connectedness – and how the research can be used to inform effective policy interventions.

To learn more – and to book your free place at the ukactive National Summit – please visit the National Summit website.

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Andy Burnham and shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens have joined Paralympic legend Tanni Grey- Thompson in calling on the government to support the physical activity sector by providing ring- fenced financial support.
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