By Stephen McLoughlin, Senior Public Affairs and Policy Manager, ukactive
At this time of year, the political developments are coming thick and fast. Party Conferences, the King’s Speech, Cabinet reshuffles, all within a matter of weeks and each one seemingly more important than the last as we creep constantly closer to a General Election. As we get to mid-November, and the lure of Christmas round the corner, one could be forgiven for thinking a fiscal event when Government funds have all but dried up – and that falls short of a full Budget – is nothing to get excited about.
This Autumn Statement, though, has the potential to be significant. Depending on when the Government chooses to call the election next year, this will likely be the penultimate opportunity for any funding announcements to be made, and the final chance for anything that will make a material difference before the public head to the polls.
After the financial and energy crises of last year, the landscape remains difficult for the Government. The cost-of-living remains a serious concern despite progress on inflation, and Government finances remain stretched – neither of these helped by stubbornly low growth.
The nation will be watching intently, and we will be looking out particularly for evidence the Government will put its money where its mouth is to tackle physical inactivity. Earlier this year, it published the ‘Get Active’ strategy promising to work with the sector on new ways to drive participation and setting targets to get 3.5 million more adults and children active by 2030. This will be one of the first opportunities to commit financially to achieving those targets.
In its submission to the Treasury ahead of the Statement, ukactive pointed to the UK’s position firmly in mid-table of European nations for activity levels, and the research from earlier this year on the potential savings for the Government if we were to unlock the true potential of the physical activity sector.
A key mechanism for the Government to drive growth is in continuing its business rate support. Last week, ukactive joined a coalition including UKHospitality, British Retail Consortium, Association of Convenience Stores and British Independent Retail Association, to outline this need in a letter to the Chancellor. Last year’s announcement on freezing business rates multiplier provided some much-needed breathing space – discontinuing it now would mean a turn to greater uncertainty.
ukactive also published the latest results from the Energy Risk Register survey, showing there are still very real pressures being felt by ukactive members across the sector. We set out clearly the steps for the recovery and growth of both publicly and privately run facilities of all sizes, across the UK.
With the Government’s focus on tackling economic inactivity, we can also expect further announcements on occupational health – a key area in which the sector can offer significant support. Providing additional funding and support for projects such as Business Health Matters and transforming fitness and leisure facilities into MSK hubs would allow these projects to be scaled across the country. ukactive has also asked for support for Workout from Work, which would see the expansion of the Cycle to Work scheme to offer more options, such as fitness equipment and gym memberships – helping to improve workplace health.
There are further interventions the Government can make to unlock the potential of the sector, such as support for public leisure facilities to decarbonise and reducing VAT to support more people to get active. While the Government’s room for manoeuvre is small, these measures would raise activity levels while supporting its priorities to grow the economy and reduce pressure on the NHS.
Although a significant moment, the measures announced by the Chancellor on Thursday are likely to fall short of a full Budget, with little room for major investment or tax cuts. The Spring Budget in March will provide the next and likely final opportunity pre-Election.
ukactive will keep all members up to date with any announcements, and what they mean for the sector.
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