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  • Latest survey of ukactive members reveals ongoing operating pressures facing physical activity sector due to high energy costs.
  • Almost a quarter (24%) of council areas are at risk of losing their leisure centre(s) or seeing reduced services at their leisure centre(s) before September.
  • 12.5% of private operators surveyed have closed some or all their sites since October 2023.
  • ukactive sets out key areas for support as it urges Government to help more people access these essential facilities.

A survey of ukactive members has revealed that nearly a quarter (24%) of council areas remain at risk of seeing their leisure centres close or reduce services by September, due to ongoing high energy costs and other operational pressures.

ukactive’s energy risk survey* received responses from public sector operators across 143 council areas in the UK and from private sector operators representing a total of 579 sites.

It found that 62.5% of fitness facilities run by private sector operators are extremely likely to have to increase customer pricing in the next six months to help cope with high operating costs, with 75% having already been forced to raise prices since October 2023. Continued price increases would not be a sustainable solution for businesses or for consumers.

While energy prices have stabilised to a degree, they remain substantially higher than before the energy crisis and in some cases, gyms, pools, and leisure centres have seen bills rise by more than 200%.

To respond to these pressures, publicly operated facilities in 15% of council areas have introduced changes to their financial or operational models to protect against the impact of further energy price rises.

The current geopolitical situation on energy costs, increased staffing costs and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis were all listed as areas of serious, ongoing concern by operators.

Support for some public sector operators came in the form of Sport England’s Swimming Pool Support Fund, announced in March last year. However, demand greatly outstripped supply, with less than 50% of applicants being successful in phase one. Many other providers, such as those in the private sector, those without pools, and operators outside of England were not eligible.

Phase two of the fund provided £60m of grants to boost operators’ energy efficiency and ukactive’s Sustainable Futures programme is helping to support the sector’s transition to net zero, however, the immediate pressures remain.

Closures have been reported across the regions, with local communities rallying to call on MPs and the Government to do more to support local authorities and local businesses.

In August 2023, the Government announced its ‘Get Active’ strategy for sport and physical activity, which laid out ambitious targets to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030.

Yet, with continued financial pressures forcing operators to reduce services, change operating models, or close some of their sites, as well as ongoing uncertainty given the wider geopolitical situation, ukactive is calling for the Government to recognise growing public demand and help more people to access these essential services.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “By most measures, the health of our nation is clearly deteriorating, and we have never needed these essential facilities more.

“The Government has set out its ambitions to get millions of people more active and we have seen clear demand from consumers to do this.

“However, persistently high energy costs and other growing pressures are placing gyms, pools, and leisure centres in extreme difficulty, being left to balance the needs of the community with smaller budgets.

“Operators are doing everything they can to avoid passing these costs onto customers, but now is the time for the Government to help drive greater numbers to these facilities as part of its strategy for a healthier, more active nation.”

Three key areas for Government action:

  1. Publishing the strategic Vision for Facilities referenced in the Get Active strategy to provide long-term security for gyms, pools, and leisure centres, particularly in the public sector.
  2. Reduce operating cost pressures through reform of the tax system, including full reform of the business rates system, a permanent reduction in VAT for facilities, and the introduction of ukactive’s proposed Workout from Work scheme.
  3. Drive participation to help tackle our growing health crisis and back the work ukactive is leading with other industry partners to integrate our members’ services into the NHS and to incentivise greater participation overall, in line with its own ambitions within the Get Active strategy.

*The survey, conducted in February, asked operators a series of questions, including grading their risk of service restrictions (such as reduced opening times, pool temperatures, classes) or risk of closures, based on the following categories:

Red – Unsecure: at risk of closure up to 30 September 2024

Amber – Unsecure: at risk of reduced services up to 30 September 2024

Green – Secure: no risk of closure and/or reduced services up to 30 September 2024