Community leisure leaders have called on the Welsh Government to ensure that the nation’s under-pressure swimming pools get their share of a £63m pledge by the Chancellor to help with crippling energy costs.
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 today (Weds).
While this will not automatically make funds available to pool operators in Wales, it will release money to the Senedd through Barnett Formula consequentials for Welsh Ministers to distribute.
Community Leisure UK, which represents charitable trusts operating swimming pools, has warned that money is desperately needed to cope with the immediate impact of rapidly rising energy costs, triggering growing closure fears among its members.
It has described the package promised by the Chancellor as a lifeline rather than a lifesaver in preventing widespread shutdowns and service cuts across the UK and says its members in Wales must be able to access any help available.
CLUK Chair, Phil Rumbelow, said: “The impact of rising energy costs on swimming pools across Wales is intensifying – and that pressure is only going to become greater.
“Operators of community swimming pools will face stark choices, including closures and service reductions, unless we can channel every ounce of financial help available to them.
“While we are still seeking greater action from the UK Government in terms of relief on energy bills, it’s vital that the Welsh Government ensures the knock-on impact of the Chancellor’s announcement are made available to our sector.”
CLUK 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 closures 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.
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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