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Public leisure sector facing catastrophic job losses without government bail-out

By Tom Walker    27 Aug 2020
Nearly half of leisure facilities in England have not found it economically viable to reopen since lockdown measures were eased / Shutterstock.com/BrunoRosa

Over 22,000 jobs are at risk across the UK's public leisure sector, out of a total of 46,000, according to a new report, out today, from industry body Community Leisure UK (CLUK).

Currently 26 per cent of the contracted workforce – 6,975 jobs – and 50 per cent of the casual workforce – 9,218 jobs – are at risk. This is in addition to over 6,000 contracted and casual staff already who are confirmed for redundancy or, in the case of casual workers, not offered work.

The report show that nearly half of leisure facilities in England (44 per cent) have not found it economically viable to reopen since lockdown measures were eased. In Scotland, only a third of facilities plan to reopen, while in Wales a quarter of facilities have remained closed, even when permitted to open.

The COVID-19 Impact Report outlines the pandemic's long-term impact on the sector, highlighting that it will disproportionately affect the workforce in the 18-34 age bracket, as leisure trusts are some of the biggest employers for this age group.

It is anticipated that numbers will rise as reopening progresses, due to higher operating costs, and the impacts of physical distancing and customer confidence reducing income levels.

CLUK says both the leisure and culture sectors have a high dependency on casual workers and the loss of these individuals will impact on the recovery going forward, as well as a significant loss of skills and knowledge, which may never return.

The report also highlights the precarious position of leisure trusts.

Current reserves across the trusts sector have dropped to 64 per cent, compared with pre-covid levels, and with only 10 per cent of reserves expected to remain by the end of this financial year, some leisure trusts will have insufficient funds to operate.

It also means many trusts are unlikely to survive local lockdowns in their areas – and those that do survive will have little or no financial reserves to rebuild their businesses.

CLUK, alongside other industry bodies ukactive, Swim England and CIMSPA, is now calling on the government to provide immediate financial assistance to the sector, in order to avoid losing jobs and "invaluable community assets".

“This report highlights the perilous situation of the public leisure sector," said Mark Tweedie, CLUK chief executive.

"To date, our sector has received no financial support, yet our facilities play a critical role in society improving the public’s physical and mental health and helping to reduce the burden on the NHS.

"Without financial support we will lose many of these precious facilities for good, depriving communities across the UK of vital public services at a time when the government is urging people to get fit and lose weight to beat COVID-19. Once again, we urge the government to support the sector to ensure the survival of public leisure provision.”

Jane Nickerson, CEO of Swim England, added: “This report is incredibly concerning, but sadly not surprising. If facilities remain closed, there will be many swim schools, swimming teachers, lifeguards and facility staff worrying about when, or even if, they will have a job to go back to.

"We’ll continue to shout loud on their behalf about the urgent need for ring-fenced funding to help prevent these vital community facilities being mothballed. We won’t back down in the fight for the funding our sector needs to protect as many pools and jobs as we can.”

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “If we do not find a solution for the financial plight of our community leisure facilities then the UK stands to lose one of its most powerful weapons in the fight against COVID-19 – the public sector fitness and leisure workforce.

"We continue to call on the Government to support local authorities to protect the future of public leisure provision by providing ring-fenced funding urgently, before we see any more facilities disappear.”

• To read the full Covid 19 Impact Report, click here.

Community leisure uk  CLUK  ukactive  Swim England  CIMSPA  swimming  public leisure 
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