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Fears on future of publicly-owned swimming pools raised in House of Lords

Fears that almost half of publicly-owned swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres might close by Christmas have been raised in the House of Lords.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chairperson of UKactive, spoke on the issue after the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) wrote to the Prime Minister pleading for financial support to the grassroots sport, physical activity and leisure sector.

CIMSPA chairperson Marc Woods warned Boris Johnson that 48 per cent of public leisure facilities could close and up to 300,000 of the 579,000 people employed in the sector could lose their jobs by Christmas as a result of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

His concerns were highlighted by Baroness Grey-Thompson, who asked if the Government had determined the impact on the NHS of the drop in activity levels and the subsequent impact this might have on sport at all levels in the UK?

In response to Baroness Grey-Thompson, Baroness Barran, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said ‘the Government understands the financial pressures that some sports and leisure centres are under’.

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has welcomed the sector’s troubles being debated in Parliament’s upper house – but warned immediate action was needed to prevent these warnings coming true.

She said: “We’re still banging the drum about the sector’s vital need for investment to help facilities which remain closed and it’s pleasing to hear the plight being discussed in the House of Lords.

“The more people that are aware of the worrying impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on facilities and our sports, the better as it becomes harder for the Government to ignore.

“This injection of cash is needed to help not only those facilities that are closed still but also ensure those currently open can stay open. Social distancing measures means footfall is greatly reduced but the running costs remain the same or higher due to the hygiene requirements.

Investment in nation’s health

“If the Government doesn’t take immediate action on our concerns, there is a real risk of these predictions sadly becoming a reality.”

In his letter to Mr Johnson, Mr Woods wrote: “Both you and the Chief Medical Officer have consistently said that staying physically active and healthy is one of the best ways to combat the risk of Covid-19. Indeed, at the height of lockdown, exercise was considered as an essential daily activity.

“However, the sector that underpins and enables much of the nation’s physical activity is in trouble.

“This ask goes well beyond sport, as important as that is. Our sector helps people to stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. We bring communities together and provide opportunities for children to be active. We also play a vital role in the rehabilitation of stroke, cancer and heart patients, work with prediabetic patients, and much more.

“The sector needs around £800m to support it through the next six months, but we are not asking for a bailout. Supporting this sector would be an investment in our nation’s health.

“The time to act is now. If we let these facilities and jobs disappear, the impact will be felt for many years to come.”

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