Leisure centres to go under without further rescue funding

Leisure centres closed again due to coronavirus may never re-open unless government brings forward a financial rescue package to save the sector.

The District Councils’ Network, which represents authorities responsible for providing leisure services, forecasts a financial hit to outsourced district council leisure centres of around £324 million this year – which will send many out of business.

The government is to provide £100 million of help sometime early next year, but councils fear that the continued loss of income will cause many leisure providers to go bust without more help getting to them more quickly.

Many councils have sought to help prop up their leisure services. However, the District Councils’ Network says that it is unsustainable as councils’ own income from sales, fees and charges has plummeted by £470 million since March, with further losses across business rates and council tax.

Therefore, the organisation is calling for an increase in emergency funding as part of the wider package of support for district councils when the Chancellor announces his Spending Review on Wednesday to ensure the leisure sector can survive into the future.

Dan Humphreys, DCN lead member for enhancing quality of life, said: “After a further period of lockdown and being unable to visit their local gym or swimming pool, it would be a devastating blow to communities to find they no longer have their local leisure centre in the months ahead. But the sad reality is that our leisure centres are in a crisis right now, and some may never recover without an increase in the lifeline as part of a wider package of support for district council services from the government’s Spending Review.

“As local leaders, district councils are committed to tackling this health and economic crisis now and in the future. Leisure and sport will be critical to improving the health of people from all ages and backgrounds as we emerge from this crisis. As destinations in themselves, they also draw people into town centres creating community spaces and support for local businesses.

“District councils are central to protecting health and the economy and helping to drive jobs and growth moving forward. But our incomes have plummeted amid the crisis and it is critical that the Spending Review continues to ensure we can deliver those critical doorstep services, protect the vulnerable and drive growth in the coming months and years.”