ukactive has raised concerns with Government about the threat to the nation’s health and wellbeing as gyms, pools and leisure facilities report facing an energy bill hike of up to 150%.
The energy crisis has hit the fitness and leisure sector at a time when facilities are still recovering from major losses incurred during forced closures and reduced footfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using evidence gathered from operators across the public and private sectors, ukactive estimates that combined gas and electricity costs for 2022 will increase by 100% compared to 2019 (the last full operating year, pre-pandemic).
The findings show that larger operators, such as facilities with swimming pools, will face an increase of up to 150%.
ukactive estimates that the total financial cost of rising energy bills for the whole sector this financial year will reach between £1 billion and £1.25 billion – up from around £500m in 2019.
In a letter to the Chancellor, ukactive CEO Huw Edwards warned that without support, many operators would be forced to increase prices, reduce services or, in the worst scenario, close facilities, meaning that millions of users and thousands of sports clubs will ultimately suffer.
While recognising that the fluctuation in energy prices remains difficult to address, ukactive calls on the Government to provide two key areas of support that are in its control to help the sector:
· A VAT exemption – provided to other sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic – finally extended to gyms. This would help ease some of the costs pressures they’re facing, including a resolution to commercial rent arrears, that sees a fair ‘sharing of the burden’ between commercial tenants and landlords.
· Local and Central Government to work with public leisure operators to not only address the short-term financial pressures they face – exacerbated by running swimming pools – but come up with a long-term strategy to keep them open.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “The Government should be extremely concerned about both the health and economic impact of the energy crisis on fitness and leisure operators.
“Rising energy costs will have a disproportionate impact on our sector, particularly larger, energy-intensive gyms and leisure centres with swimming pools, which are now at major risk of closure.
“Our members will want to avoid passing on these cost pressures to their customers, especially given the rise in the cost of living, but this might become unavoidable.
“These facilities are crucial to supporting the delivery of Government’s ambitions around ‘levelling up’ which contain ambitious targets for both health life expectancy and wellbeing. They support tens of millions of people to be active each week, so their protection should be a priority.
“Furthermore, we don’t want to see a situation where vital community facilities continue to struggle to operate while we prepare to host the Commonwealth Games this summer. Such a situation would no doubt cast a shadow over the Games themselves, raising difficult questions with regards the legacy value of hosting such an event.”
Jane Nickerson, Swim England Chief Executive, said: “Pools are important hubs of our communities, helping millions learn a vital life-long skill as well ensuring people of all ages can remain active, therefore reducing pressures on our NHS.
“However, they are especially vulnerable to the huge increases in energy prices due to the costs associated with heating large amounts of water, particularly our ageing facilities which are often not as energy efficient as pools built today.
That is why it is more important than ever for government to work with us to ensure the future of our pools and leisure centres, both now and for the long-term.”
ukactive’s evidence is supported by a separate survey of public leisure trusts from Community Leisure UK (CLUK) which revealed an average energy bill of £3.2m per organisation in 2022, representing a 113% increase compared to an average cost in 2019 of £1.5m.
CLUK also found that due to the high energy consumption of swimming pools, there would need to be a subsidy of £5 per visit in order to meet rising operating costs for 2022-23.
To support your local gym, pool, leisure centre or sports club, write to your MP.