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Budget leaves fitness industry with unanswered questions, says Huw Edwards

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The budget announcement has left the UK's physical activity sector with "unanswered questions" and vowing to continue to fight for additional support, says huw edwards, CEO of ukactive.

Edwards said the lack of targeted help would put the future of some fitness facilities and businesses "under threat".

“Today’s Budget statement falls short in confirming the necessary financial support required for the survival and recovery of our nation’s gyms, pools and leisure centres," Edwards said.

“It's important to acknowledge the broad measures of support open to all sectors, in the shape of extended furlough support, continued business rates relief, and grants for the self-employed.

“We also cautiously welcome the introduction of the restart grants for gyms and other businesses, however, we will require further details of the eligibility of all of our members to access this support and its scale.

"It's critical the Government clarifies that EU State Aid rules do not apply to these grants.

“But the lack of further measures of support for gyms, pools, and leisure centres places their survival and recovery at great risk, therefore, threatening the future health of our nation.

“There is no evident reason why the VAT reduction has not been extended to our sector, which has been hit equally as hard as other sectors.

“Alongside this decision, there remain unanswered questions on a number of crucial areas, including financial support for back-dated rent, extending the moratorium on commercial evictions, and extending the public leisure recovery fund.

Last month, industry body, ukactive, published six policy calls that were designed to help the industry weather the effects of the pandemic – with a particular focus on helping facility operators survive the continued lockdowns.

Among the policy measures requested from government was an extension to the public leisure relief fund and a reduced, 5 per cent rate on VAT – currently enjoyed by the hospitality and attractions industries – to be implemented across the physical activity sector.

Others included a call for support programmes that address health inequalities and financial support for gym operators for back-dated rent.

• To read more about ukactive's six policy calls, click here

Only one of the six policies, however – an extension to the business rates holiday – was addressed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak when he unveiled the Budget.

Even there the physical activity industry can only claim a partial win, as the government added just three months to the scheme (extending it until June 2021), rather than the 12 months suggested by ukactive.

• To download and read the full Budget document, click here

Edwards said: “We estimate that more than 400 facilities have already closed, with more to follow. Furthermore, our members’ facilities have been losing £90m revenue a week and have had zero income over the series of lockdowns – unlike parts of other sectors that have been provided with bespoke support in this Budget.

“The COVID-19 crisis starts and ends with our health. The tragic level of fatalities and hospitalisations we have witnessed from the virus is influenced by the health inequalities we face.

“Our ability to counter COVID-19 in the long term will depend on our collective health improvements. Gyms, pools and leisure centres are integral to that effort, which makes the lack of bespoke support so worrying.

“These facilities provide essential services that support communities across the country, for example, every year they help 17.1 million people stay active (second only to walking), provide 1.2 million children with swimming lessons, and deliver 66 per cent of all cancer rehabilitation services. Many of these facilities are currently being used as vaccine centres, supporting our national fight against the virus.

“We cannot afford to lose these facilities and we will work with the Government and across Parliament to secure the financial support this Budget falls short of providing.”

Edwards' comments were reflected by those made by Tara Dillon, CEO of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA).

"It is disappointing not to see any commitment to extending the National Leisure Recovery Fund for supporting public sector facilities," Dillon said.

"The £100m allocated in December was already far less than was needed to protect these vital health services, and we have already seen many closures and job losses as a result. We will work with our partners in the sector to understand what is now needed and push for additional support.”

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The Budget announcement has left the UK's physical activity sector with "unanswered questions" and vowing to continue to fight for additional support, says Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive.
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