Skip to main content

By Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive

Last month a coalition of more than 200 bodies and individuals from the worlds of health, sport, recreation, and leisure wrote to the Prime Minister with an urgent plea for greater support for grassroots facilities and clubs amid the ongoing energy crisis.

ukactive’s latest figures show that since October, around 350 leisure centres, pools or gyms have seen either service restrictions, temporary closures or permanent closures. With energy bills remaining up to 200% higher than normal, we also know 31% of council areas in England remain at risk of losing their leisure centre(s) or seeing reduced services from 1 April.

With the Spring Budget on 15 March, the sector remains hopeful its plea will be heard. Our letter forms part of a comprehensive programme of engagement with the Government and Parliament over many months from ukactive, its members, and its partners. This will include engaging over 140 MPs before the Budget who have facilities most exposed to service restrictions and closures. Overwhelming evidence has been presented; now political decisions need to be made on support.

The letter provided clear asks from the Government around both the safeguarding of facilities and a clear plan for growth that unlocks the full potential of the sector to support the economic, health, educational and social wellbeing of the nation.

Furthermore, this powerful coalition of organisations and individuals – indeed, this movement – is also united by a desire for change across a range of areas. Together, we seek to change the historic discrepancy that sees grassroots sport, recreation, and physical activity provision is valued as less of a priority than elite and spectator sport.

We seek to change how this sector is perceived. It is an industry in its own right, driving significant economic growth, employment, and prosperity. It should be acknowledged and supported accordingly.

Finally, we seek to change and grow the role it plays in addressing some of the urgent societal issues we face, making a significant contribution to several of the major challenges in the Government’s in-tray, including:

  • The operational pressures facing the NHS – our ability to help manage these pressures and the impact we can have on speeding up elective recovery.
  • The crisis in adult and young people’s mental health – where our sector demonstrates proven results in improving wellbeing, as well as reducing loneliness and crime.
  • The growth in long-term sickness absence and people of working age becoming economically inactive, with its longer-term impact on health service use and productivity.

We all want to see the Government put our sector to work on these issues.

Furthermore, this could also be part of the solution for how best the Government can support businesses, especially in our sector, with support during the cost of living and energy crisis.

The Government can position the sector at the forefront of its strategy to address the issues listed, and subsequently elevate the value and importance they hold, driving demand for these services.

The Prime Minister and the Government know there is limited economic growth without a healthier society. According to the Times Health Commission, ill health among people of working age is projected to cost the UK economy approximately £150bn a year (equivalent to 7% of GDP) and the cost has increased 60% in the past six years.

So, change is required, and change is what is being called for. We hope this starts with the Budget, and the essential support needed to safeguard facilities within the sector. Yet it must build from there, with the Prime Minister setting a national mission for health improvement, placing sport, recreation, and physical activity at its heart.

To support the sector, contact your MP with your concerns.