The physical activity sector will have an essential role to play in delivering the UK government's plans to "level up" and tackle longstanding economic, social, and health inequalities.
The government this month published its much-awaited, flagship Levelling Up White Paper, which sets out plans to transform the UK by "spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it".
Based on 12 national "levelling up missions" – which will be given status in law – the plans include the biggest shift of power from central government to local leaders in modern times. As part of the move, every region of England is to get ‘London-style’ powers and a mayor if they wish to.
Among the main aims of the plans is to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy between areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030.
Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active says this places the physical activity sector at the heart of the entire strategy.
“The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the significant economic, social, and health inequalities we need to address as a nation," Edwards said.
"We're encouraged that improving both healthy life expectancy and wellbeing are integral to the Government’s bold targets.
"Hitting these targets will require a level of partnership between sectors and government never previously seen and that is especially the case for the overall sport and physical activity sector.
"Increasing physical activity levels must be at the heart of this push for a healthier UK."
Edwards added that the government now needs to do two things.
“Firstly, before it begins to address the long-term, it needs to address the immediate," he said.
"There remains insufficient support for many gyms, pools, and leisure centres which continue to struggle to survive from the impact of COVID-19.
"We are now seeing more and more facilities restricting services or closing. This will be exacerbated by the increase in the cost of living.
“The Government cannot deliver key elements of its ‘levelling up’ agenda if this issue is not addressed.
“Secondly, there needs to be clarity on how our sector will be utilised as part of the Government’s levelling up agenda.
"The work of Sport England and its Uniting the Movement’strategy is important, but can only be part of the solution.
“What we now need to see is concrete detail on how the Government will shape and improve the landscape in which our sector operates, including clarity on access to future investment, tax and regulatory reform, and policy development."
To read the government's white paper on levelling up in full, click here.