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Work with us on energy prices, concerned leisure sector urges Government

The Government has been warned that rising energy costs could pose a threat to the nation’s health and wellbeing as ‘vulnerable’ swimming pools and leisure centres are put at ‘major risk of closure’.

ukactive says the energy crisis has hit the fitness and leisure sector at a time when facilities are still recovering from 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 says operators with swimming pools will see bills increase by up to 150 per cent.

Huw Edwards, ukactive CEO, has now written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for increased support for facilities – while Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has backed the plea in a bid to secure the long-term future of pools. 

ukactive estimates that combined gas and electricity costs for 2022 will see energy bills reach between £1 billion and £1.25 billion – up from around £500m in 2019. 

While recognising that the fluctuation in energy prices remains difficult to address, ukactive has called 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. 

Jane said investment to secure the future of pools would be money well spent as aquatic activity helps to save the health and social care system more than £357 million pounds per year.

She added: “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. 

Extremely concerned

“That is why it is more important than ever for the Government to work with us to ensure the future of our pools and leisure centres, both now and for the long-term.” 

Mr Edwards added: “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.” 

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 per cent 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 show support for your local pool, leisure centre or sports club, write to your MP.