National Leisure Recovery Fund
The Government’s manifesto commitment to invest in the future of sports facilities is a positive step to ensuring that our communities can be active and invest in their future wellbeing. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions.
Sport England research showed that NHS providers in England spent more than £900 million in 2009/10 treating people with diseases that could be prevented if more people were physically active. Independent research showed that the November 2020 lockdown alone cost the UK a loss of £29.4 million in health savings from the closure of leisure venues. Further insight from the Moving Communities platform demonstrates the significance of public leisure centres in the activity habits of its customers lives, with 86 per cent of people saying they preferred exercising there compared to a more informal environment, and 77 per cent saying they felt the staff at the centre gave them the guidance they needed to be more active.
Although people from more affluent areas are still in the majority when it comes to facility usage, data from the Moving Communities platform shows that the more deprived an area is, the more people prefer exercising in a public leisure centre. These areas also have lower life expectancy rates. Provision of affordable public leisure facilities is therefore essential for levelling up an area. In the words of Levelling Up Adviser Neil O’Brien, “it's very difficult to have a successful economy if lots of people are off sick.”
Empowering the public to take greater responsibility for leading a healthy lifestyle is a task that requires a joined-up effort across all public services. But with an ageing infrastructure that is struggling to meet public demand, England’s public leisure provision needs an investment boost if it is to fulfil its potential for levelling up people’s health and wellbeing.
Council leisure providers have been badly impacted by the pandemic and are struggling to deliver core services. They also face having to place on hold vital work to support social prescribing and other health and community outcomes as they seek to maximise financial returns to ensure survival.
Because many providers operate on low profit margins or are constituted as trusts or charities, they have been unable to secure Government support beyond the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) and the National Leisure Recovery Fund (NLRF) resulting in a projected revenue loss of £411 million for district councils alone, rising to around £600 million when unitary councils and metropolitan boroughs are included. A second round of revenue funding through the National Leisure Recovery Fund would enable providers to reopen their full range of services and divert pressure from the NHS and social care by supporting people to be healthy and active.
Long term investment in sporting infrastructure
English councils’ sporting infrastructure is extensive, community based, and popular – with 9 in 10 visitors satisfied with leisure centres. However, it is ageing, with Sport England estimating that 63 per cent of main sports halls and 60 per cent of swimming pools are past their expected lifespans or overdue refurbishment. Furthermore, the public leisure estate is not energy efficient and can account for up to 40 per cent of a council’s direct carbon emissions. This must be addressed if climate change targets are to be met.
Councils want to work with communities to design the leisure centres, sports pitches, parks and other infrastructure that will best enable them to build activity into their lives. New facilities also have the potential to revitalise the high street and be co-located with other facilities to form wellbeing or community hubs. The ambition should be that everyone lives within 15 minutes of a high-quality leisure facility, whether leisure centre, football pitch or public park.
Sport England has been providing effective support and investment in infrastructure, but their funds are oversubscribed with 1,054 bids submitted to a grant fund that could only make 151 awards. Had Sport England been able to fund those bids, it would have unlocked match funding worth at least £540 million from councils and partners. During its operation, the fund typically achieved a 30 per cent reduction in capital build cost through effective pre-planning design work; and a 40 per cent improvement in efficiency averaging £500,000 per annum per facility. Scaling up this approach would ensure the best value from every penny of investment.
Targeted at those communities most in need of improved services and based on established environmental design plans, this would build or refurbish 25 new facilities each year over a three-year period, creating a network of hubs to help people become more active in their everyday lives.
It would help to create thousands of construction jobs and apprenticeships, and improve efficiency through sharing innovative building methods and seeking economies of scale. Longer term, it would create new job opportunities in areas of the sport and leisure industry typically taken by young people, as well as reduce the cost of future builds by kickstarting energy efficient construction in the leisure sector.
Sport England’s existing facilities fund is a proven mechanism for delivering this funding. However, alternative opportunities also exist to embed, rebuild and refurbish the leisure estate as a core feature of funds designed to deliver wider objectives on levelling up or decarbonisation of assets.
Capital investment is key to addressing the issues facing the leisure estate. But if we are to return the nation’s health to at least pre-pandemic levels, there are a number of actions that the Government can take that simply require enabling changes to ways of working rather than financial investment. The LGA, Association for Public Sector Excellence (APSE), and Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) have surveyed the sector and set out these recommendations for government and councils in their new report, Securing the Future of Public Sport and Leisure Services. For instance, the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) should take responsibility for integrating public leisure provision into the health system.
Exeter’s new £35 million Passivhaus swimming pool and leisure centre complex is predicted to save the city council about £200,000 a year in energy costs compared with a conventionally constructed design, equivalent to up to 70 per cent on annual energy costs. The savings mean it will take fewer than 10 years to pay back the increased construction costs of building the scheme to Passivhaus quality standards. St Sidwell’s Point leisure centre, which is currently under construction, houses three swimming pools – a 25m competition pool, a 20m community pool, and a children’s play pool – a spa, gym and studio, and a cafe. In addition to being the UK’s first Passivhaus pool complex, the scheme has been designed to be climate resilient up to 2080 and to be a healthy building.
Over 1,000 people have helped to design, construct and deliver this amazing building. During the build there have been eight jobs created for apprentices, 15 jobs created for new entrants and one job created for a graduate. There have been 13 qualifications gained; seven main contractor and six sub-contractors.
As a result of the build there have been 35 work placements; 27 in education (22 T Level students and five school placements) and eight not in education. There have also been over 1,000 Passivhaus Passport completions, with the workforce upskilled on environmentally friendly building practices.
Finally, the social impact generated through skills and employment has been £340,320 and Kier gave 925 hours to support this.
Culture and creative spaces
Government statistics show that in 2018 the UK’s creative industries contributed more than £111 billion to the UK economy, equivalent to £306 million every day or £13 million every hour – more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined. This was a 7.4 per cent increase on 2017, so growth in the creative industries was more than five times larger than growth across the UK economy as a whole.
In addition, creative industries have increased their combined contribution to Gross Value Added (GVA) by 43.2 per cent in current prices since 2010. However, parts of the creative industries have been hit harder by the pandemic and the ill-effects will last longer than for other sectors of the economy. Those businesses that rely on attracting audiences or visitors, many of which councils have a direct interest in, will be the last to return to normal operations with no clear picture of when that might be.
The success or failure of the creative industries is important to councils, not just from an economic perspective but because of the way culture and creative spaces contribute to local identity and opportunity.
More than two million people work in the UK’s creative industries and, before the COVID-19 crisis, the sector was projected to create another million jobs by 2030. Jobs in the creative economy tend to be higher value, better paid and be more skilled than the average in the wider economy: they will be key to levelling up. We must harness this creativity and the innovation inherent in the sector to take on the challenges of a post-COVID world, generating jobs and investment in local places.
We need a place-based approach to post COVID-19 culture sector recovery. Each area faces different conditions, has lost different elements of its local ecosystem and will be in a different starting point for recovery. Councils are the local leaders of place and best placed to coordinate recovery, although ongoing investment through Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and Sport England will have a critical enabling role to play. Maintaining commitments to existing programmes like Heritage Action Zones, the Business and Intellectual Property Centre network, the oversubscribed Museum Estates and Development Fund (MEND), and Tourism Zones must form the central basis of this work.
Culture drives footfall in high streets. The creative use of empty retail spaces can help to revive town centres and provide a mixed economy on the high street. Central and local government needs to collaborate to revive and drive the cultural recovery, with its proven impact on GDP (joint fastest growing economic sector, with tourism, prior to COVID-19). Councils and combined authorities are already using tools first developed in Business Improvement Districts and Enterprise Zones to support the growth of creative clusters.
For example, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has worked in partnership with The Centre for Local Economic Strategies to develop Creative Improvement Districts, offering rate relief and start-up support to creative entrepreneurs. The North of Tyne Combined Authority and Creative England have launched a £2.625 million investment programme to stimulate culture and creativity in the region, including a combination of grants, loans, equity finance and business advice.
Building on these and similar initiatives, as well as the success of programmes like the Creative Industries Clusters Programme, we would like to see a pilot programme of place-based investment and incentives in the creative economy at a local level, match funding councils’ own investments and providing a package of incentives for areas designated a creative cluster area. This should include consideration of how clusters can work outside of urban centres.
The business case developed by the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, convened by DCMS and the LGA, demonstrated that makerspaces are a swift, cheap, and popular way of bringing creativity and innovation into communities that have previously had few creative outputs. 17.3 million people in the UK lack the essential digital skills for life or work, which makes the provision of public access computers in libraries, and the support provided to train people in the skills to use them, more vital than ever. A £30 million capital funding investment in libraries to develop a network of makerspaces and public access computers would support our country’s recovery, close the digital skills divide in many of our most deprived areas, and grow entrepreneurs and innovators in every council area. Government could complement this work at a low cost by supporting the roll out of eduroam to all public libraries, significantly enhancing the ability of students, researchers and academics to work remotely from academic hubs, and bringing this facility to communities with limited access to nearby educational institutions.
Finally, making £100 million capital funding available to convert disused retail units on the high streets into creative studios would enable creative industries (worth £111 billion GDP) to thrive, drive footfall to high streets and increase pride in place, offering a chance to grow entrepreneurs and innovators for the future by delivering 3D printing, coding and display spaces for creative experimentation. This must be coupled with the planning powers needed to curate high streets, as was done by removing permitted development rights from theatres and performance venues, protecting them from inappropriate development and preserving them for the community.
We welcomed the removal of permitted development rights for demolition of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues announced in July 2020. Culture and leisure buildings and organisations can act as anchor institutions, driving footfall to high streets and supporting the visitor and night time economies. These measures give councils more flexibility in shaping their local places and protecting important cultural assets that may be temporarily unviable due to the pandemic. However, there are many other culture and leisure venues, including museums, galleries, libraries and arts studios not covered by these measures, which remain vulnerable and are difficult spaces to re-provide once lost. Given the Government’s direction of travel in this area, we would like to see the protections from permitted development afforded to live venues extended to other anchor culture and leisure institutions, as defined by the local authority.