Leisure providers falling between support packages

Date published: 11 May 2020

Leisure providers which provide vital sport and cultural services for communities are facing crisis point without access to emergency government funding or support, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Oliver Dowden MP, calling for the government to ensure leisure trusts have access to key funding to safeguard services.

It says leisure providers – many of which are charities, like Rochdale’s Link4Life – must be able to access the new £750 million grant-based package for the charity and social enterprise sector. A range of emergency measures such as relaxing performance requirements, advance payments, waiving management fees and offering financial support have been introduced by councils.

With the average monthly leisure utility and energy bill costing £44,000 alone, the LGA is calling on the government and utility companies to also agree a short-term reduction or waiving of standing charges for energy and water.

Andy King, CEO of Link4Life, the charity that manages the leisure and culture facilities in the borough on behalf of Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Myself and the board of trustees of Link4Life are very grateful to Steve Rumbelow and Rochdale Borough Council for the speed that they gave assurances to us, as their partner, within 24 hours of the government closing leisure and cultural venues as a result of lockdown.  

“This genuine partnership approach continues, with Link4Life operating an ‘open book’ policy and offering to use any financial reserves accumulated over recent years to aid the quest for survival. 

“Some of our team have been redeployed to the front-line emergency response effort, but most of our staff are currently furloughed so we are using the Job Retention Scheme and sincerely hope we can continue to do so into the near future and avoid centre closures and redundancies. With 75% of Link4Life staff currently living within the borough, increasing to almost 90% if you add Bury, Oldham and Manchester, this would not only be a disaster for our customers but for the local economy too.

“Unfortunately, as the LGA says, we are ‘falling between the cracks’ in terms of the various national schemes available for businesses and charities. The fact is, that without continued financial assistance, we will not survive as a charity.

“Over the last six weeks, we have been, and will continue to be, fully involved in the wider regional and national discussions around the industry and we are not sat waiting for hand-outs. We are engaged with UK Active, Sport England and others nationally to influence the recovery plans, and to work collaboratively to find solutions.

“We are humbled that we have customers choosing to continue their membership payments despite the centres being closed, to support us through this period. We will not forget these loyal customers and will be thanking them in a variety of ways when we come back. 

“Our intention is to not only survive – albeit with essential help – but to ‘build back better’.”

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Councils are deeply concerned about the future of leisure trusts, who are charities, societies or community interest companies.

“Leisure facilities provide an affordable space for our communities to exercise and socialise with family and friends. They play a key role in improving our communities’ physical and mental wellbeing.

“If we do not act to save these vital community resources, it will cost us much more in the long-term both socially and economically. It is vital that government works with councils and leisure providers to identify any potential funding to avoid reaching a crisis point.”

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