South West councils make urgent call for leisure centres funding

Forest of Dean District Council is working in partnership with local authorities across the South West in urgently calling on the Government to provide funding to safeguard the future of leisure centres.

They are asking ministers to approve a funding submission to help local authorities meet the costs of reopening and operating leisure centres across the country caused by the lockdown and ongoing impact of Covid-19.

Local authorities across the South West are making the formal plea following the reopening of some leisure centres while many leisure centres remain closed.

Centres which have reopened or partially reopened are facing substantial increased costs due to additional Covid-secure measures they have had to put in place, including limiting customer numbers and reduced opening hours.

Some leisure providers are reporting up to 50 per cent drops in income which are predicted to continue into the next two years.

Councils which are members of the South West Leisure Group are warning that the government needs to act now before the furloughing scheme ends this autumn and it is too late for the sector. 

Under government funding announced last month, only around a quarter of councils will be able to recover a proportion of the income that has been lost as a result of the pandemic. 

Many councils have been or are being asked to provide financial support to keep these companies and organisations financially viable and allow them to open up, but in many cases, Council simply do not have the funds.  

Sport England have been leading cross sector support on the challenges facing local authorities’ leisure provision due to COVID-19 and have made Government aware of the severe impact on public leisure provision and the need to secure additional financial support as serious concerns remain over its economic viability.

Cllr Tim Gwilliam, leader of the Forest of Dean District Council said "We in the Forest of Dean Council are all too aware of the financial difficulties facing Councils around their Leisure provision. We had to make some really difficult decisions ourselves in order to enable the phased reopening our  leisure centres. People want these services, People need these services. As we have learnt to our cost at Five Acres it is immensely difficult to reinstate these facilities once they are closed. For the good of the Councils, for the good of the community and for the good of the Country the Government must support ALL councils financially to protect Leisure services.

Cllr David Worden, Leader of North Devon Council said: “The leisure facilities provided by local authorities are vital to our communities as councils provide the facilities that the private sector is not generally interested in such as swimming pools etc.  Councils that outsourced management of these facilities are now being penalised by the government because they cannot recover the vast sums of money now being required to effectively prop up their external providers and enable them to open facilities.”

Cllr Mike Eathorne-Gibbons, Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for customers, said: “Cornwall Council is one of those authorities that is being asked to financially support its leisure providers to enable facilities to re-open. The cost of keeping centres in hibernation for four months with no income, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and how services will be delivered, has resulted in a total funding shortfall for our leisure provider GLL of around £5m.”

We are not alone and most councils across the South West, and we have been told nationally, are in similar positions.  While the government has recognised that some councils have lost income from leisure facilities and has decided to compensate them, many other have not by virtue of who is providing them. This just doesn’t make sense; these centres really need some help now.  This is a crisis that will not go away.”

John Hart, Chair, South West Councils, said: “The position is pretty simple really.  Councils are being asked to financially support companies purely to enable public facilities to re-open.  Councils cannot afford to do this and so there is now a real risk that facilities in some areas will not be opening.  That will undermine national initiatives to reduce obesity and make the nation healthier and more resilient.  It is vital that the government holds firm to its promise to do whatever is necessary to support councils’ efforts.”    

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Forest of Dean Communications Team