'Urgent call' for leisure centre funding backed by East Devon District Council

By The Editor

28th Aug 2020 | Local News

Sidmouth Swimming Pool. Image courtesy of Jaggery.
Sidmouth Swimming Pool. Image courtesy of Jaggery.

East Devon District Council is working in with councils across the South West to urge the Government to provide funding to safeguard the future of leisure centres and pools in towns such as Sidmouth.

They are asking ministers to approve a funding bid to help local councils meet the costs of reopening and operating leisure centres across the country caused by the lock down 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, councils 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.

Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council's portfolio holder for Coast, Country and Environment, said: "Health and wellbeing for our residents are a key element in our Council Plan, which is why we financially support our Leisure and Sports facilities within our control every year.

"The unprecedented events this year, resulting in all our swimming pools, gyms and sports facilities closing for several months, and now open, but with extra safety and hygiene measures and a restriction on numbers has resulted in substantial extra costs and lost revenue.

"East Devon District Council believes that the extra financial aid our leisure facilities requires needs to be urgently supported by this Government to safeguard these important assets, the staff they employ, and to continue to promote health and sport for the community."

David Worden, Leader of North Devon 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."

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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