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Councils told to support leisure operators which are 'falling between the cracks'

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Local authorities have been told to consider deferring rents and offering interest-free loans to leisure operators which are struggling with the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is advising councils to help their leisure partners during the pandemic, to avoid "long-term damage" to the services they provide.

"Leisure facilities provide vital health, leisure and wellbeing services to local communities and will be a key re-engagement service for those communities post the COVID-19 pandemic," the LGA said in a statement.

"However, leisure providers are currently falling between the cracks of most announced support packages. Leisure trusts are most at risk because they are charities, societies or community interest companies (with a public benefit asset lock) and as such do not distribute profits."

The LGA has published a comprehensive guide, titled Options for councils in supporting leisure providers through COVID-19, which outlines a number of measures local councils can introduce to assist leisure contractors and operators.

These include waiving the money that leisure providers are due to pay the council on a monthly basis and offering interest-free loans or grants to cover the closure period – as well as concessions on future measures, when allowed to re-open.

The guide also suggests that councils should defer any rental costs for the sites they operate on and for authorities to pay the costs related to maintenance, utilities and a proportion of central overheads – subject to an "open book reconciliation" being undertaken to determine the actual cost when the centres re-open.

"It is clear the services delivered by leisure providers play a vital role in this both now and in the future," LGA states in the guidance.

"We would encourage councils to consider the long-term implications of these unprecedented times on the culture and leisure sector as a whole and consider how we can best stand together to ensure the resilience of these facilities for our residents."

The LGA worked with industry body ukactive in pulling the guidance together.

“Partnerships between local authorities and their leisure operators have never been more important, with each facing huge financial pressures as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic," said Steven Scales, ukactive's client services director.

“Let there be no doubt; every city and town is facing the loss of vital community leisure facilities which are crucial for the physical, mental and social health of their residents. Our leisure centres are the places where our children learn to swim, our communities gather to meet, and our family and friends recover from injury or illness – we cannot let them disappear.

“ukactive is pleased to be working in partnership with the LGA and Community Leisure UK to develop this guidance so that councils across the country are armed with the best possible information to support the important negotiations taking place with leisure operators. While the details will differ, our ambition is for a partnership-focused approach to be adopted consistently.

“We encourage local authorities to consider the long-term impact of cuts to the leisure sector, and to stand together with our operators to ensure the future of the leisure facilities that our communities rely on.”

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Local authorities have been told to consider deferring rents and offering interest-free loans to leisure operators which are struggling with the COVID-19 shutdowns.
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