Leisure leaders today described a £63m Government pledge to ease the crippling impact of energy costs on swimming pools as a lifeline rather than a lifesaver, warning that widespread closures and service cuts are still on the cards.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a one-year fund made up of £40m to make pools more energy efficient in the long term and £23m in grants to leisure centres with pools facing immediate cost pressures – including energy bills – as part of his Spring Budget.
Community Leisure UK (CLUK), the industry body representing the operators of 880 pools across England, Scotland and Wales, has been leading calls for the Government to provide continued financial support to help pay crippling energy bills.
It warned last month 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 a decision to discontinue payment relief on bills from April 1.
CLUK Chair, Phil Rumbelow, said: “This money is a lifeline but it’s certainly not a life-saver when it comes to preventing widespread closures. More swimming pools will shut unless our members receive financial relief on their energy bills, which are set to increase significantly from April 1. Their closure will mean the cancellation of thousands of learn to swim classes and valuable community facilities will be lost for good.
“The stark reality is that £23m is nowhere near enough to provide the help that’s needed – at scale – to manage the immediate impact of rising energy costs.
“Our members need direct relief on their bills. Without that more certain, stable support that operators can properly budget for, potentially hundreds of pools will be plunged into danger.
“We would welcome the opportunity for further talks with the Chancellor and the Treasury to discuss how we can work together to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities do not suffer because operators can no longer afford to keep affordable, accessible community services open.”
CLUK is also calling on the funds announced to be made available urgently with its members – all charitable trusts – already seeking clarity around timelines.
Swimming pools are particularly hard hit by rising energy bills because of the costs to heat water and the ambient environment.
Some operators have told CLUK that their energy costs have as much as 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 leisure sector has previously been granted “vulnerable” status by the UK Government and received help with payments as part of its Energy Bill Relief Scheme. But it is currently not on the list of sectors to feature from April 1.
CLUK say pool closures would not only block a reroute to better public health, but cause an irreparable blow to elite sporting development, losing medal-winners of the future.
Swimmers across the country joined the call to help community pools as part of Big Swim Day on February 24th.Sharing details of the support package for swimming pools, Jeremy Hunt told the Daily Express: “Soaring bills are hitting us all hard, and community pools have been thrown in the deep end. I know they are loved by millions of people. This vital lifeline will keep them afloat.”
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