Impact of increasing costs on sport and leisure

Thursday October 6th saw a Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee meeting held, at which Welsh Sports Association (WSA) CEO Andrew Howard was in attendance.

The impact of increasing costs and the threat to the sport and leisure sector was discussed.

Owen Hathaway, Assistant Director, Insight, Policy and Public Affairs, at Sport Wales cited the growing deprivation gap due to increasing costs and noted the real threat to participation as well as to the volunteer network.

He explained that volunteering is not free for volunteers and that, with increasing costs in everyday life, we could see people opt to supplement income rather than volunteer in their free time.

Community Leisure UK’s Head of Policy and Strategic Partnerships Jennifer Huygen and Andrew Howard added to this point, stating that we are seeing talent leave the sector on a wider scale, explaining that lower salaries and the impossibility of replacing those who leave due to the financial squeeze on organisations are resulting in a potential exodus.

On the threat to participation, Owen Hathaway cited the macroeconomic impacts of the current climate; for example, children being hungrier following exercise, therefore presenting families with the issue of higher food costs. He also spoke of the Sport Wales Tracker which showed the decrease in physical activity during the cost-of-living crisis.

Andrew Howard noted that we’d seen a 10-15% decrease in customer numbers and activity and noted the spiralling challenge of increasing energy bills, saying that facilities like swimming pools, who have stared lowering the temperature of their water, are facing real existential threats.

Owen Hathaway suggested we may see the emergence of physical activity in informal settings, as sports might have to reinvent themselves as they managed during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this would be wholly detrimental to the providers themselves, Jennifer Huygen explained that informal activity is important to encourage participation in the first place. As Owen Hathaway noted, however, sport in informal settings should be carried out through enjoyment rather than necessity, with a view to partaking in formal settings – for which the existence of facilities is of course necessary.

Speaking about the Government’s economic intervention, Owen Hathaway reminded everyone that we are emerging from a pandemic and that the sector is not in a good place to be coping with a cost-of-living crisis. Jennifer Huygen agreed with this and, although the Government’s support is welcomed, she states that it is not sufficient and believes closures and reduced activity are string likelihoods in the short term.

Owen Hathaway explained that he recognises the wider financial implications of the current climate when Alun Davies MS cited the Welsh Government’s own financial challenges, and suggested a shift to a more energy-efficient delivery for our sector, supporting providers more generally to become resilient, and the need to adopt a collaborative approach to pool resources.

Andrew Howard exemplified the desire to shift to a more energy-efficient approach with Newport Live, who are currently building an energy-positive facility, and that this may be a model for the sector moving forward. He also mentioned the WSA procurement portal, where members can buy together to reduce overheads; spoke of a shared services model, where members can use facilities to reduce overheads; and a new sports foundation, which would help with levelling the playing field.

On the issue of funding and coping with the current crisis, Jennifer Huygen suggested that there should ideally be further support to enable leisure facilities to access the Welsh Government energy service and funding more easily, rather than relying on local authorities for applications and to help with available energy deals. She explained that the areas requiring immediate support were local government budgets, and a stronger directive to support preventative wellbeing services.

Andrew Howard agreed and stated that facilities like swimming pools are particularly vulnerable at this time, and that providers would perhaps benefit most from specific targeted interventions.

Find the whole meeting recording on the Senedd website.

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