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South West councils make urgent call for leisure centres funding

| District

South Somerset District Council is working in partnership with local authorities across the South West in urgently 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. 

Many councils have been or are being asked to provide financial support to keep these companies and organisations financially viable and allow them to open up, but in many cases, Council simply do not have the funds.  

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.

Councillor Val Keitch, Leader of South Somerset District Council said: “The leisure facilities provided by local authorities are vital to our communities as councils provide the facilities that the private sector is not generally interested in such as swimming pools etc.  Councils that outsourced management of these facilities are now being penalised by the government because they cannot recover the vast sums of money now being required to effectively prop up their external providers and enable them to open facilities.”

Councillor Mike Best South Somerset’s portfolio holder for Health & Wellbeing, said: “SSDC is one of those authorities that is financially supporting its leisure providers to enable facilities to re-open. Our leisure providers income has suffered as a result of Covid and we are keen to ensure that facilities continue to be provided in South Somerset.

“We are not alone and most councils across the South West, and we have been told nationally, are in similar positions.  While the government has recognised that some councils have lost income from leisure facilities and has decided to compensate them, many other have not by virtue of who is providing them. This just doesn’t make sense; these centres really need some help now. This is a crisis that will not go away.”

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.” 

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