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South West councils make urgent call for leisure centres funding

9:46am - 02 September 2020

Together with local authorities across the South West, North Somerset Council is 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. 

Here in North Somerset, the council has agreed to offer some financial support to leisure centre operators to help them remain financially viable and allow them to open up.

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 Caritas Charles, North Somerset Council's executive member whose portfolio includes leisure, said: "Up and down the country our leisure services are under a huge strain. North Somerset Council is doing all it can to work with our partners to keep these facilities going but unless the government acts now and quickly to support our leisure industry it faces an uncertain future.

"It’s vital at this time when the government is calling on all of us to be mindful of our health that they protect the very services that are helping us and our families to do just that."

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.”