Wave Leisure Trust CEO urges government to prevent loss of 58,000 jobs
Duncan Kerr, chief executive of Wave Leisure Trust Ltd has urged Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to ensure that public leisure service providers receive immediate financial support, following a report in the Guardian that 58,000 of the sector’s jobs could be gone by Christmas.
In a letter seen by The Parliamentary Review, Mr Kerr, whose organisation has partnerships with Lewes District Council, East Sussex County Council and several Public Health Partners including East Sussex Public Health and the NHS, makes the case that ‘supporting those in greatest need with physical and mental health conditions will prove invaluable in the coming months and years to support those affected by Covid-19.’
‘The loss of public leisure facilities and services, including Wave,’ he argues, ‘could cause irreparable damage and without immediate action to ensure the sector’s future.’
The letter goes on to list the potential services and associated jobs that could be lost without government support:
· Four swimming pools and children’s swimming lessons (3,000 pupils on Learn to Swim) and access for Swimming Clubs.
· Four gyms with 5,500 members.
· The exercise referral services to help people manage long-term health conditions and aid recovery in patients who have had treatment for life threatening conditions.
· Facilities and services for community groups, such as classes for older people (43,000 attendances in 2019),parents and young children, free or low cost activity sessions for families on low incomes, people with dementia and their carer’s as well as schools and community sports clubs.
· Activities for children and young people both within sites and out in community settings. During 2019 Wave recorded 400,000 attendances by children and young people to activities designed to support active living and build confidence, many of which were offered at low or no cost.
Mr Kerr points out that these service from ‘the fabric of our society, contributing to the local economy and generating social value across communities on account of improved health, wellbeing and social cohesion, along with decreasing antisocial behaviour and crime.’
Tragically, since the government-enforced lockdown, Wave Leisure Trust has had zero income and limited access to financial support provided by the government. The strict social distancing rules and the need to rebuild customer confidence mean that it will take a considerable amount of time for the business to return to its pre Covid-19 levels of income. And by then, it may well be too late.
Wave Leisure Trust is in the invidious position of just missing out on a number of financial support packages that are available to similar organisations. They are not considered to be a ‘small’ business, nor to be ‘delivering front line services’, despite the huge social, physical and mental health benefits they provide to the community. This means they are ineligible for the £750m earmarked for Charities.
Wave is also ineligible for the business support grants because most of the facilities have a rateable value in excess of £51k.
Sport England’s Covid-19 designated funding is unable to cover the financial impact on Local Authority services (and in extension their Leisure Trust partners), while trusts are rejected or deemed ineligible for the Covid-19 Business Interruption Loan Scheme based on the current criteria.
‘Like us, just under half of the nation’s public leisure service operators,’ Mr Kerr points out, ’are now at risk of becoming financially non-viable or insecure over the next six months, jeopardising thousands of facilities and jobs, along with the immediate future of our vital community assets. Given reports that many Local Authorities could go bankrupt as a result og the financial pressures of Covid-19, non-statutory services such as public leisure and cultural services are at particular risk.
‘Even after streamlining provision, our projected accumulated non-recoverable deficit to the end of March 2021 is circa £1.5 Million. We are working with Lewes District Council to develop a solution but, consistent with other Local Authorities across the country, their financial pressures are so serious that they cannot afford to provide the financial support necessary.
‘Leisure services engage some of the most deprived and vulnerable communities and they are more vital than ever to support people with their resilience to, and rehabilitation from, Covid-19. Evidence clearly indicates that people residing in deprived communities were disproportionately more likely to be less physically active during lockdown and to experience mental health issues, highlighting the vital role our leisure services must play going forward to tackle these stark health inequalities.
‘Considering their value, we cannot allow leisure providers, like Wave to disappear. Combined with the delay in reopening indoor leisure facilities, the plight of our assets is more critical than ever and we need support to ensure ourleisure facilities can survive this crisis and continue to provide essential services to Lewes constituents in the aftermath of Covid-19.
‘Our members’ association, Community Leisure UK, with other national bodies including ukactive, have called on Government to provide additional funding for Local Authorities, ring-fenced to support facilities and Trusts, and to ensure Local Authorities have the means to provide flexibility and support in their contractual relationships with service providers.’