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ukactive Calls On Government To Again Recognise Physical Activity Sector As Safe And Essential

Workout In Gym During Pandemic

ukactive has urged the Government to ensure the physical activity sector remains open and supported to play its fullest role as the critical January period approaches.

Based on evidence from its members, ukactive has estimated that the sector has already suffered a drop in revenue of more than £200m as a result of the current ‘Plan B’ measures in England.

The existing measures have already caused a reduction in footfall to city centre facilities of up to 70%.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, last week met with government ministers to explain the impact that current and future restrictions would have both on the sector and the nation’s health.

ukactive has also been in regular dialogue with the governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as the four nations look to stem the tide of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

On Friday (17 December), ukactive wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the Secretaries of State for DCMS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – setting out the position of the sector and the impact of restrictions.

The letters follow the publication by the ukactive Research Institute of the most comprehensive safety data from the sector in Europe, showing extremely low rates of COVID-19 among people who have visited facilities – just an overall rate of 0.83 cases per 100,000 visits (from 12 April 2021 to 21 November 2021).

In its messages to the government, ukactive showed exactly why the UK needs the sector to be fully operational after Christmas in order to ensure the population is supported to maintain its physical and mental health during winter when poor conditions mean exercise outdoors is not an option for many. 

The sector was previously recognised as providing an essential service when it was permitted to reopen at the earliest possible stage during Step 2 of the Government’s roadmap in April.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “It is vital that the Government does not take our sector for granted and provides the required support for our members as part of the business relief measures that the Chancellor must address.

“Gyms, pools, studios and leisure centres are dealing with a major loss in footfall and are facing the prospect of a decline in new members this January.

“The Government must provide clarity on these plans beyond Christmas as the New Year is a vital time for gyms and leisure centres, when millions of people become members.

“The closure of these facilities last January not only had a profound impact on the financial viability of these facilities but also led to a massive drop in our national activity levels, creating more problems and pressure for our NHS.

“These are essential facilities that need to be protected and kept open, so they can support the physical and mental wellbeing of millions as we face both the depths of winter and this next stage in our battle with COVID-19.”

Tara Dillon, CEO of CIMSPA, said: “It is extremely important that we see clarity and support for the sport and physical activity workforce, going into the crucial New Year period. 

“This professional workforce plays a vital role in supporting the health of the nation, and many were hit hard by previous restrictions. 

“Many facilities and providers are already facing staff shortages, so it is essential that the Government does everything it can to support them, and the sector as a whole.” 

There are around 7,000 gyms, pools and leisure facilities across the UK, employing more than 189,000 full-time staff, 60,000 self-employed or freelance staff, such as PTs.

Together, they serve more than 17 million people from a broad and diverse range of communities, including more than 10 million members.

In addition to sport and fitness services, the sector also provides vital health services, such as 66% of the nation’s cancer rehabilitation and prehabilitation services, swimming lessons for millions of children, and pre-and post-natal services.

Every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates nearly £4 for the English economy and society (Sport England and Sheffield Hallam University), with an annual contribution of £85.5bn through social and economic benefits, and £72bn each year in social value – measured in terms of a healthier population, consumer expenditure, greater work productivity, improved education attainment, reduced crime and stronger communities.

ukactive has called for the following financial package: 

  • Suspend business rates for Q1 2022 for all health, fitness and leisure businesses, and agree to review the 2022/3 cap. 
  • Introduce new grants to compensate for a lack of trade from Government intervention. 
  • Include gyms and fitness centres in the reduced rate of VAT, ahead of a review into an extended and permanent reduction.

2022 – ahead of a review into a permanent reduction:

  • Extend the National Leisure Recovery Fund – with the pandemic’s catastrophic impact on public leisure, the previous £100m recovery fund must be extended to cover the additional periods of closure and restrictions. 
  • Reinstatement of the furlough scheme and sick pay. 

ukactive continues to work with its members and partners across the sector to understand the impact of restrictions and represent these businesses in its ongoing dialogue with the UK government.