The leading bodies for the physical activity sector have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to request urgent additional measures to be put in place in order to keep gyms and leisure facilities afloat during the coronavirus epidemic.
Huw Edwards, Tara Dillon and Cate Atwater, the heads of ukactive, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), and Community Leisure UK respectively, offered to work with the Treasury on the priorities for financial support designed to protect thousands of jobs, businesses and charities.
Gyms, leisure centres and other activity facilities currently remain open to the public, following Boris Johnson’s call on March 16 for people to continue to go out to exercise. Facilities are undertaking additional cleaning procedures and physical distancing measures to ensure customers remain safe and active, in line with guidance from Public Health England.
Today’s letter to the Chancellor reads: “The unique position and value of the physical activity sector – and its workforce – to our nation’s health and economy must not be underestimated.
“We want to work with you and your team to ensure the physical activity sector has the tools it needs to survive in this rapidly changing climate.
“Our gyms, leisure facilities and sports providers are on the frontline of the prevention agenda, contributing hugely to both our national wellbeing and productivity.
“We cannot allow the facilities at the heart of our communities to disappear.
“Figures show that public leisure alone is worth £3.3bn annually, having a huge impact on wellbeing (£2.4bn) and health (£715m), but findings also demonstrate benefits for wider social issues such as education and crime, shaping the future of children and young people, ensuring a productive workforce, tackling loneliness, supporting an ageing society, and providing deeper connections within communities.
“Throughout the coronavirus crisis our members have been working tirelessly to support the public to maintain active lives, supporting the nation through increasing pressures on both our physical and mental health, as our routines are disrupted.
“The significance of maintaining our physical and mental health cannot be underplayed in these circumstances, and the physical activity sector finds itself uniquely placed to offer support to people.
“If physical activity organisations are not supported to survive, it will be difficult for this vital infrastructure to be restored once the crisis is over – and a lengthy restoration process would have dire consequences for our society.”
The measures proposed by the sector bodies are:
· Comprehensive salary payment support, as instituted in other European countries.
· Rental/management fees reduction support, to reduce/cease rental payments.
· For public sector operators, clarification on the responsibility of local authority clients and the non-payment of management fees as well as additional support with cash flow.
· Making gym memberships tax deductible for a stipulated period. This would make it easier to regain memberships after this unsettled period, as well as possibly allow facilities to hold on to current members.
In addition to this, we require clarification on the processes for the following:
Clarity on the terms of loan provision, as six months is not feasible for the repayment of interest, given the low margins within the sector. We request that this window is extended to 12 months.
Clarity on the Government’s position on facility opening – as seen in New South Wales, Australia, so that businesses can plan accordingly and maintain revenue where appropriate.
Clarity on Business Interruption Insurance and the grounds for pay-outs, in addition to confirming the parameters in the new business interruption loan scheme.
Clarity on non-payment of VAT, National Insurance, Pension and Payroll contributions during the period of disruption.
Clarity on tailored financial support for self-employed physical activity professionals.
ukactive, CIMSPA and Community Leisure UK are working with Sport England, Public Health England and DCMS to ensure the sector is armed with the latest guidance and recommendations during the crisis.