By Jack Shakespeare, Director of Research, Policy, and Communications, ukactive
This week will see the Autumn Statement delivered by the Government, on Thursday 17 November. After extended periods of political turbulence which have disrupted the regular rhythm and schedule of government, the Autumn Statement should represent the return to a normal political cycle. However, the economic outlook surrounding this week’s fiscal event means it will be anything but.
The Autumn Statement takes place in an incredibly challenging financial environment for the country – inflation and the high cost of living is putting immense financial pressures on public services and on business costs, with gyms, pools, leisure centres and other sports facilities across both the public and private sector highly vulnerable to the crisis. Since energy costs began to rise exponentially in early 2022, facilities have been facing potentially catastrophic bills. We know the Government is facing a number of tough decisions, and Thursday’s statement is likely to reflect the harsh reality of the economic situation.
With an anticipated plan to both raise taxes and reduce departmental spending in order to manage the current economic situation, the pain will be spread. This will include further challenges for public leisure services as the Government looks to make savings on public spending, causing major difficulties for local authorities, which will have to make tough decisions regarding non-statutory provision.
Government support to guarantee energy unit prices with the Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS) has been welcome, but it is no silver bullet. ukactive data published in June showed that facilities were already struggling with rising energy costs prior to October and so, while the EBRS has prevented mass service failure in the short-term, high caution remains as the sector faces a potential cliff-edge moment from 1 April, as demonstrated in our latest round of consultation with members and subsequent campaigning.
The lead into Thursday’s statement has seen facility closures across the country and without support identified in the Autumn Statement we are likely to see more, particularly as local authorities are forced to cut back on non-statutory services, including leisure centres.
The impact of losing facilities, budgets, and programmes is profound. This loss will place further pressure on the operational work of the NHS, on social care services, on educational and community wellbeing services, and negatively impact economic productivity through increased poorer health among the nation’s workforce. ukactive has presented the economic and health implications to the Government to make this as clear as possible during its decision-making process.
We are engaged with the Government in a number of ways to try and prevent further closures of facilities, through the necessary support. Firstly, by engaging the sector to provide a comprehensive response to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) three-month review of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. The sector’s response to this has been excellent, with a high volume of submissions from across our membership, underlining the continued value of providing our data to the Government.
Secondly, by continuing to work closely with our partners. We have worked alongside the Local Government Association (LGA) in all discussions with the Government, as well as in responses to government announcements. Our relationship with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also helped us to understand the Government’s favoured process and approach in terms of measuring the impact on industries, particularly regarding the BEIS review.
Thirdly, using ukactive’s relationships with MPs across the House to increase support and create external pressure on the Government. This has included conversations with those MPs directly affected by closures in their constituency, as well as providing detailed briefings to influential MPs in the Labour Party and Select Committees.
It is unlikely the Autumn Statement will provide a satisfactory answer to what the level of support for the sector will look like beyond April 2023. We may get some idea of the threshold at which support will be set, but little more than that. Instead, all attention will turn to the result of the BEIS review on the extension of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme – based on which sectors are most vulnerable – for the medium-term survival of facilities in our sector.
To that end, our members’ openness and data provision remains as crucial as ever, and ukactive will continue to work closely with the Government in our members’ interests.
To find out more or to support our campaigning, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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