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Energy prices pose an “existential threat” to parts of the industry warns UK Active in letter to Liz Truss

UK Active sent a letter to the government, on behalf of its public sector and contract management members, asking for financial support in view of rising energy prices
Without it, UK Active estimates 85 per cent of public sector leisure facilities will close within the next six months
The non-profit also believes that energy bills will rise by 240 per cent in 2023
Cautions against a “major mental and physical crisis” that could be triggered by mass closures
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The stark reality is that millions of people are facing the loss of fitness and leisure facilities that they rely on for their health, wellbeing and even their safety
Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active
Credit: UK Active

As the UK’s new prime minister Liz Truss prepares an energy bailout, UK Active has sent a letter to the government warning of a “major mental and physical crisis” if financial support is not provided for the sector.

The issue is especially focused on operators that run large swimming pools.

Non-profit UK Active – which represents 4,000 organisations serving 17m people in the physical activity sector – estimates that energy bills in parts of the industry will rise by 240 per cent in 2023. Some are already battling increases of up to 200 per cent. If funding is not allocated, UK Active makes it clear that the majority of public leisure facilities could face closure.

The letter is signed by each member of UK Active’s membership council, who head up companies such as Gymbox, Total Fitness, Fitness First, Pure Gym, Anytime Fitness, the IFBA and Myzone Group.

“With no financial support, more than half of all public and private facilities will be forced to close some or all of their sites,” states the letter. “This includes up to 85 per cent of public leisure facilities within the next six months.”

Last month the BBC reported that 65 pools had closed in the three years to March 2022 and since this date, one in six local authorities “had lost at least one pool on a permanent or temporary basis”.

A report from Deloitte, IHRSA and the GHFA earlier this year found that inactivity cost the UK healthcare system US$4.3bn (£3.7bn), of which US$3.6bn (£3.1bn) is covered by the public health system. The risk of illness from conditions such as diabetes, depression, cancer and dementia is reduced with exercise.

Harvard researchers have recently demonstrated that doing double the minimum recommended amount of 150 hours each week (200-600 minutes) is the most beneficial for health.

“The energy crisis poses an existential threat for many of our members,” it reads. “Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools have seen their bills increase to an unsustainable level and without support many will have no choice but to increase customer prices, rationalise services, cut back on staffing levels, close sites or even declare bankruptcy. This would be devastating for communities across the UK as these facilities are crucial to people’s health, wellbeing, social life, and community spirit.”

“In England alone, the sport, fitness and leisure sector generates £85bn (US$97bn) of social and economic value every year. Research by Sport England and Sheffield Hallam University showed that every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates £4 for the English economy, in part because of the significant return on investment physical activity offers on many health conditions, including musculoskeletal issues, cancer, heart issues, and mental health disorders.”

The letter calls for the following methods of support: local government grants, ring-fenced to protect public and community leisure facilities; expansion of business rates holiday and a freeze on business rates for next year (with no caps across all premises); reduction in VAT of 5 per cent for leisure businesses; replication of Time-To-Pay flexibility scheme from HMRC; and funding to accelerate the adoption of green technology.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active, said: “Our sector has laid out the evidence to the government and the stark reality is that millions of people are facing the loss of fitness and leisure facilities that they rely on for their health, wellbeing and even their safety.

“We welcome the new prime minister, Liz Truss, to her new role. She has the opportunity to make an immediate and positive impact on the future health and cohesion of our communities, by providing the support gyms, pools and leisure centres need to survive the energy storm and grow once again.

“We must see the support required by our members to continue their essential role for our health and wellbeing, and we will continue to work tirelessly and constructively with the government and its partners to ensure it is delivered.”

List of co-signatories from UK Active's membership council:

Dave Courteen, managing director, Mosaic Spa and Health Club Group

Andrew Denton, chief executive, Outdoor Industries Association

Marc Diaper, chief executive, Gymbox

John Fletcher, managing director, Northampton Leisure Trust

Sophie Lawler, chief executive, Total Fitness

Lee Matthews, managing director, Fitness First

David Monkhouse, non-executive director, LeisureSK

Rebecca Passmore, UK managing director, PureGym

Chris Symons, chief executive, BH Live

Andrew Thompson, chairman, Anytime Fitness UK

Jean-Claude Vacassin, director, IFBA

Sarah Watts, chief executive, Alliance Leisure

Dave Wright, CEO, Myzone Group

To read the full letter, click here:

See HCM's debate on the cost of living crisis here.

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As the UK’s new prime minister Liz Truss prepares an energy bailout, UK Active has sent a letter to the government warning of a “major mental and physical crisis” if financial support is not provided for the sector.

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