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ukactive publishes the six policies it believes would secure the future of the physical activity sector

By Tom Walker    15 Feb 2021
ukactive is calling on the government to provide targeted financial support for operators / Shutterstock.com/Master1305

ukactive has published six 'policy calls', which it says are crucial in order to help the physical activity sector survive and recover from the financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

The industry body has written an open letter to the government, detailing the measures required to support the sector.

The policy calls are:

• a VAT reduction to 5 per cent in line with those offered to hospitality and attractions businesses and backdated to the end of the last tax year

• financial support for operators for back-dated rent • an extension of the current business rate holiday by a year

• an extention to the public leisure relief fund• support programmes that address health inequalities

• the expansion of innovations across the sector seen during COVID-19

The VAT issue, in particular, is seen as a crucial one, as the physical activity sector has not enjoyed the same concessions as those in the hospitality, tourism and attractions sectors.

The temporary 5 per cent VAT rate was introduced for these businesses as part of the COVID-19 measures in 2020, which meant operators were able to charge the lower rate of VAT (instead of 20 per cent) on a number of services and products. These included accommodation and any food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on the premises.

Most visitor attractions are also covered by the 5 per cent rate – and the lower rate also applies to some season tickets offered by them.

The lower VAT rate was initially scheduled to end on 12 January 2021, but was then extended to 31 March 2021.

Although the amount of VAT that could be recovered would be reduced by the fact gyms were closed during some of the period in question, the VAT relief – were it to be agreed to – would benefit all operators to an extent, while being especially beneficial to businesses whose customers have continued to pay during lockdowns.

Liz Terry, editor of HCM said: "The government has gone to great lengths to stress its support for the activity sector and its belief in the power of exercise to maintain the health of the nation and to relieve strain on the NHS.

"As a result, it seems counter-intuitive that the government has offered VAT support to operators in almost every other sector of the leisure industry, but rigorously and meticulously exclude anything to do with sport, fitness and exercise from benefitting.

"We ask the government to review this decision and to create a level playing field for all leisure businesses, so those in the activity sector have the resources they need to get back to supporting people to get fit to fight COVID."

In relation to the situation with rent, ukactive is calling on the government to provide financial support for operators for back-dated rent which will be due once the moratorium ends at the end of the financial year (April 2021).

It also wants to see the moratorium on commercial evictions being extended to October 2021 and the public leisure relief fund to cover additional periods of closure beyond those originally covered.

The ukactive letter, sent to government, was signed by 50 industry leaders across health, fitness and sport – as well as some celebrities, in an effort to draw attention to it.

The letter reads: "We know that for every pound the government spends on sport and physical activity, it gets almost four pounds in return,"

"This creates savings of billions on serious physical and mental health conditions, healthcare, social care, and preventing an estimated 30 million GP visits a year.

"Fitness facilities help reduce rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, dementia, anxiety and depression – not to mention boosting our resilience to cardiorespiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Furthermore, 66 per cent of cancer prehabilitation and rehabilitation takes place in leisure centres."

Huw Edwards, ukactive CEO, said: "Our sector is vital, not solely for the economy, but for our nation’s health and wellbeing, which has never been more important.

“The return on investment for the government when it comes to providing greater tailored support at this time is undeniable."

ukactive  Huw Edwards  VAT 
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