The long-term impact of COVID-19’s lockdown is starting to emerge in Scotland with concerns rising that most of Scotland’s sport and leisure facilities will not re-open.
Scotland’s sporting infrastructure relies heavily on community facilities owned by local authorities and managed, in most areas, by leisure trusts. Most trusts have suffered annual reductions in council investment for the past 15 years and some facilities were earmarked for closure pre-COVID. Now, having lost five months of income due to lockdown and facing forecasts of reduced income at least through 2021 due to so social distancing, the OSS understands that several operators can no longer fund the staffing and maintenance of key sport facilities.
All of Scotland’s trust operators took part in the survey led by Community Leisure UK and UK Active, and revealed that 1,300 of the 2,727 leisure centres, 20% of swimming pools and thousands of community halls funded by local authorities across the UK could close for good over the next six months. The report adds that nearly 60,000 jobs would also be at risk.
In Scotland, trust operators admitted that up to 90% of facilities are not viable without an injection of more than £120m in new relief funding, on top of maintaining the current council investment. There is no indication of the Scottish Government providing relief funding and many councils are considering further cuts to sport and leisure as a result of Covid-19 losses.
The impact will be felt hardest in the most deprived communities where footfall and/or membership fees are not as high as in more affluent areas, with community clubs, swimming lessons and a huge variety of social and mental health, and social prescribing activity at risk of disappearing altogether.
The Observatory for Sport in Scotland is working with trusts, local authorities and a range of community stakeholders to share research into new models of delivery, learning from European countries who have changed their models of community sport management to not only maintain facilities but increase activity levels.
Mark Tweedie, the new chief executive of Community Leisure UK, stated: “The public need to be made fully aware that their cherished public leisure services are at risk because, due to income losses, local authorities will not be capable of financially sustaining them through the Covid-19 crisis without government financial support.
“Public leisure centres are at the heart of communities – they are places where communities connect and they serve all age ranges and abilities, from parents with babies, through to sports clubs, walking groups and gentle exercise classes for the less fit.”
Read The Guardian’s article here.