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Community swimming pools in ‘last-chance saloon’ without urgent support

Community swimming pools across the country are in the ‘last-chance saloon’ and will close at an ‘alarming rate’ without urgent Government support.

That’s the warning from Community Leisure UK (CLUK), which has written to chancellor Jeremy Hunt calling for extra measures to help tackle crippling energy bills.

CLUK – the organisation that represents charitable trusts delivering public leisure and culture services – say 80 per cent of its members have told them they are at financial risk amid skyrocketing costs. 

It is calling on Mr Hunt to designate leisure and cultural charity trusts as a Vulnerable Sector as part of the UK Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme.

The plea to the chancellor comes off the back of Swim England presenting a petition containing almost 50,000 signatures to the Treasury and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The aim was to show the Government how much pools and leisure centres mean to communities across the country in a bid to prevent a ‘dire’ situation from escalating further.

Alistair Robertson, vice-chair of CLUK, said: “The UK’s community leisure sector is in peril as operators struggle to pay huge energy bills while still trying to recover from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Without designation as a vulnerable sector, the situation will become existential after 31 March. 

Closures at alarming rate

“Bills are bad enough now, but the prospect of them rising further after April 1 is frightening. Many swimming pools in particular are in the last-chance saloon. 

“Without urgent Government support to pay their energy bills, many operators simply will not be able to afford to open them. 

“We fear closures at an alarming rate, right across the country. Once closed, it is hard to see them reopening. 

“Given that our members provide community services at affordable prices, it’s the most vulnerable – those already hit hardest by the cost of living crisis – who will suffer the greatest at a time when they need support with their health and wellbeing most.” 

The Government is due to announce its review into the scheme – which runs until the end of March next year – in the coming days.

No guarantees have yet been given for April 2023 onwards and Mr Robertson added: “Vulnerable Sector Designation is necessary for our members’ survival – a critical tool in our armour as we at least attempt to stabilise and look for some kind of recovery. 

“Every one of our members is taking a long, hard look at its finances against a backdrop of depleted reserves after almost three years of once unimaginable disruption with local authorities – themselves under pressure – having no capacity to financially support the scale of price increases we are experiencing.” 

To view CLUK’s letter to the chancellor, please click here.