Hundreds of community swimming pools across the UK face a sharp increase in energy costs from Saturday April 1 – potentially putting thousands of swimming lessons at risk.
The UK Government’s direct relief on utility bills to the leisure sector ended Friday 31 March, increasing financial pressure on pool operators.
And, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged £63m to help ease the impact of crippling costs on venues in his Budget, industry leaders are still awaiting details of how that will be allocated.
Community Leisure UK (CLUK), the body representing the operators of 880 pools across England, Scotland and Wales, had led calls for the Government to continue providing relief on bills.
It has described the support announced as “a lifeline, not a lifesaver” as it continues to support members through the challenges and lobby for greater action.
Fears are growing that swimming lessons could be among the casualties if operators are forced into dramatic cost cuts in order to keep their pools open.
CLUK chair Phil Rumbelow said: “We cannot afford to end up with a postcode lottery of places where people – children especially – can learn to swim.
“Swimming is a lifesaving skill. Every child should have the opportunity to learn. The work that our members do should not be allowed to go backwards. The fact is that, from today, thousands of those lessons could be at risk if operators find themselves unable to afford to run them as the bills start coming in.
“While the £63m support announced by the Chancellor is welcome, there’s no getting away from the fact that our members are having to contend with significantly increased cost pressures from today, now that the direct relief on bills – which we lobbied heavily to retain – is being removed.”
In England, one million children take part in swimming lessons every year. Scottish Swimming says council and leisure trust-operated pools north of the border host lessons for more than 106,000 children weekly, while Swim Wales chief executive
Fergus Feeney told the Senedd recently that affordability issues mean children from deprived areas had “no chance” to learn without school swimming lessons.
Part of the Chancellor’s package included £23m in grants to leisure centres with pools facing immediate cost pressures, including energy bills.
The remaining £40m is capital investment into decarbonisation and long-term energy efficiency, which is essential investment to support the sector to become more sustainable in the medium and long-term.
All of CLUK’s members are charitable trusts operating affordable community venues.
Mr Rumbelow added: “Anything helps and we’re grateful. But, unfortunately, £23m simply is not enough. We look forward to working with the Government to see what more can be done.”
CLUK warned in February that up to half of the UK’s community swimming pools face closure or service cuts – placing thousands of jobs at risk – unless Ministers u-turned on their decision to discontinue payment relief on bills from April 1.
It has called on the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland to make the money available through the Barnett Formula following the £63m Westminster announcement to be channelled directly into supporting swimming pools.
Some operators have told CLUK that their energy costs have already tripled in recent times.
Heating an average 25-metre six-lane swimming pool uses about one million kwh of power per year. That compares to the average 2,900 kwh of electricity and 12,000 kwh of gas that energy regulator Ofgem says is used by the average British household annually.
The relief that existed until Friday 31 March came via the leisure sector’s classification as “vulnerable” as part of the UK Government Energy Bill Relief Scheme. Ministers decided not to retain that from April 1.
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