Activity sector unites to push back over Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan
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Activity sector unites to push back over Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak's proposals to support the economy through the next six months of the pandemic "are not enough" to secure the future of the physical activity sector.

Sunak's Winter Economy Plan – revealed in parliament yesterday (24 September) – will, among other measures, replace the current furlough scheme with a new Job Support Scheme (JSS).

Under the JSS, which comes into effect for six months on 1 November, the government will cover some of the wages of employees who are working at least 33 per cent of their normal hours.

Meanwhile, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will be extended to support traders who are facing reduced demand over the winter months, covering 20 per cent of average monthly trading profits via a government grant.

For businesses, there is a new “pay as you grow”, flexible repayment system, which will allow companies extend their bounce back loans – taken during the pandemic – from six to 10 years while reducing their payments.

Businesses can also move to interest-only payments or suspend repayments for six months if they are "in real trouble". Credit ratings will be unaffected.

• To learn more about the measures in the Winter Economy Plan, click here to read the full HM Treasury document.

According to physical activity sector leaders, however, the measures – while welcomed – fall short of the support needed to keep the sector alive.

"The measures announced today by the Chancellor will provide some relief to the fitness and leisure sector," said Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive.

"However, we must now see urgent tailored support for our survival.

“The new Job Support Scheme and extension to the SEISS is important, but with many workers still on furlough, thousands of jobs remain under threat and we await more detail on these areas.

“The extension of government-backed loans schemes, and changes to the terms of repayment for Bounce Back Loans and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans, will help with cashflow, alongside new payment schemes for deferred VAT.

“However, we cannot have a situation where once again hospitality and tourism are prioritised over the fitness and leisure sector, which to date has received no tailored support despite being forced to close for a prolonged period during lockdown.

“Our sector requires a complete support package that not only includes core funding, but also stimulus including VAT relief and ringfenced funding for public leisure operators.

“There is no trade-off between health and the economy when it comes to investing in our sector, and we will continue to work urgently with the Government to ensure our members get the support they need.”

Tara Dillon, chief executive of CIMSPA, added: “Any extension of support for businesses struggling through no fault of their own is welcome, but we fear this package on its own will not go far enough in protecting many parts of the fitness and leisure sector, especially community facilities.

“One third of public gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools have not been able to reopen, due to lost revenues during lockdown and ongoing restrictions on numbers. These facilities, which were thriving before Covid-19, employ thousands of people and also provide essential health, wellbeing and social services, often in some of the most disadvantaged communities. If lost now, these facilities could be lost for many years to come.

“We continue to call on the government to provide further, targeted support for the sector, including core funding similar to that provided to the arts sector, ring fenced funding for public leisure operators and a stimulus including VAT relief.

“With many self-employed workers in our sector, we will also be seeking further clarity on the extension of the SEISS, and are concerned that many are still not eligible for any financial assistance from the government.”

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak's proposals to support the economy through the next six months of the pandemic "are not enough" to secure the future of the physical activity sector.
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