Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport addresses threat to leisure facilities
Speaking to the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee on Wednesday, Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden, addressed the widespread threat posed to the sport and leisure sector and its facilities.
The cost-of-living crisis has, and will continue to, hit the sector hard, increasing costs to the point where closure is a feasible outcome for facilities across the country.
This worry has been accentuated by swimming pools’ and other leisure facilities’ recent omission from the UK Government’s Energy Bill Discount Scheme.
Dawn Bowden, however, addressed the concern around the survival of those venues when asked by the Committee about the Welsh Government’s assessment of the situation.
“My officials met with the chief leisure officers of Wales at the end of last year and that was after the local government settlement had been published,” Dawn Bowden explained. “From that, we’ve been made aware that there are no imminent threats because of the better-than-anticipated (settlement).
“We have seen some examples already, for instance, of local authorities that had been planning on taking particular actions but come back from having seen their budget allocation; Powys Couty being one question in point.
“So, we’re not aware of any imminent threats to facilities,” she continued, “but we are very conscious and very aware of the very real threats to the leisure sector – particularly swimming pools – and the fact that swimming pools have been left out of the UK Government’s Energy Bill Discount Scheme (is) hugely important.
“I am meeting with Swim Wales to discuss this very issue,” the Deputy Minister revealed. “This is a critical issue for some of these organisations. We have to try and put pressure in the UK Government, as well, to include swimming pools and leisure facilities into that Energy Bill Discount Scheme because, if we don’t do that, then I think there is a danger of facilities closing.”
The Welsh Sports Association (WSA) recognises a severe threat to public, private and community facilities and clubs if support on energy costs isn’t forthcoming. We are already aware of proposals to reduce provision and alter opening hours and fees in many Welsh Local Authorities.
We will continue to advocate on behalf of the sector and urge UK Government to review its decision to exclude the sector from its updated list of eligible industries for energy-bill relief.
The WSA also offers services that can support facilities amid the incredibly challenging financial landscape that currently threatens the sector. Our Procurement Portal, for example, has already supported grassroots clubs with their energy costs to great effect.
We will also continue to host sector calls to address the situation, having delivered the first recently. Please get in contact with the WSA team if you didn’t receive an invitation to the last but would like to attend the next.