The government needs to urgently set out its plans to support physical activity and fitness businesses if it intends to delay Step 4 of its COVID-19 lockdown exit plan.
All restrictions on social distancing in England are set to be lifted on 21 June – a date dubbed as "freedom day" – and the government will decide on 14 June whether it will go ahead as planned.
Rising numbers of coronavirus cases and the emergence of the new “Delta variant” have, however, resulted in speculation that the final stage of England's lockdown will be pushed back.
According to reports, chancellor Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a “short delay” to Step 4, while communities secretary Robert Jenrick said that, as coronavirus cases are "clearly rising", Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reviewing a range of data to decide on the lifting of restrictions.
According to ukactive, any delay in the roadmap – if paired with no extra support being issued to businesses – could cause a disastrous "perfect storm" for the physical activity sector, as Step 4 has been set to coincide with the end of a range of financial relief measures.
The industry body said fitness and leisure facilities face a "cliff-edge moment" on 1 July, when the moratorium of forfeiture comes to an end, business rates are set to be reintroduced, and employer contributions to furlough payments recommence.
ukactive has sent the government a list of recommendations, which include the ring-fencing of COVID-related arrears, the reduction of rent due during closures and restricted trading, and an extension to the current date for lifting protection measures.
An estimated 400 physical activity facilities had closed by the end of the first quarter in 2021, and thousands more will be at risk of closure if the government does not commit to a solution on rent urgently.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “We fully respect the government’s safety considerations for the timing of Step 4, however, any delay to reopening must go hand-in-hand with additional support for our nation’s fitness and leisure facilities.
“Decisions that prioritise the health of our communities must include the essential service provided by gyms, pools and leisure facilities.
“More than 400 gyms, pools and leisure centres in the UK have already been forced to close, depriving communities of local provision and exacerbating inequalities in physical, mental and social health.
“We have made a clear case for extended financial and regulatory support, and the government now has the power to remove the threat of rent arrears, extend VAT relief to our sector, and provide a second phase of the National Leisure Recovery Fund.
“Now is the time for the Government to begin delivering on the health commitments made in the Queen’s Speech, by providing the support necessary for our fitness and leisure facilities to survive and recover fully.
“Our sector has demonstrated incredible professionalism and the highest standards of safety throughout the pandemic, and stands ready to reopen fully so it can maximise its impact on the mental and physical recovery of our communities.”
Source: Sports, Parks and Leisure