Lack of financial support for leisure facilities discussed in Senedd prior to Spring Budget statement
The lack of current financial support for leisure facilities was discussed in the Senedd on Tuesday, with First Minister Mark Drakeford outlining his hope for Wales’ leisure facilities to receive help in Wednesday’s Spring Budget announcement.
James Evans MS questioned the Welsh Government about funding for sporting facilities in rural areas and particularly his own constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, to which Mark Drakeford discussed the Sport Wales Be Active Wales Fund, opening in April.
There was also talk of the £12.6m investment into Welsh sport and leisure announced earlier this year, which will see projects through Wales receive funding via the Football Association of Wales.
Jane Dodds MS then asked what the Welsh Government can do to support facilities with the costs of maintaining their swimming pools, without support from UK Government on energy costs as things stand.
“Swimming pools are essential for mental health, physical health, and particularly for people with disabilities,” she stated.
“At this stage, we understand that there is no action from the UK Conservative government to help with bills… so I just wondered what the Welsh Government could do to help local authorities who are really struggling with bills to heat our swimming pools.”
“I know that the leisure sector… is disappointed that swimming pools have been excluded from help under the UK Government’s new Energy Bills Discount Scheme,” replied the First Minister. “If you’re running a museum, you will get help from the scheme, but if you’re running an energy-intensive place like a leisure centre, and particularly a swimming pool, then you won’t be getting any help at all – and that seems perverse… given that the most expensive part of any leisure centre is the swimming pool itself.
“We will hope to see in tomorrow’s Spring statement some sensible change in that direction,” continued Mark Drakeford, “so that leisure centres and the local authorities who support them will be able to cover those costs in that way.”
Jane Dodds brought up the recent example of Exmouth Leisure Centre in Devon that is using innovative means to heat its swimming pool.
“The Devon example is an interesting one, isn’t it?” Mark Drakeford continued. “Because it solved the problem in a different way; it didn’t just seek to pay the higher bills, it seeks to find new sources of energy that can be used.
“There are many, many example here in Wales where you have industries that create a great deal of heat, where that heat is simply dispersed into the air, where you could… try to reuse that heat. A great deal of thought is being given in many parts of Wales to exactly that sort of innovative and experimental way of finding better ways to heat those very important local facilities into the future.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will announce his Spring Budget on Wednesday 15th March, revealing whether sporting facilities will benefit from being added to the list of energy-intensive business that can benefit from support with energy bills.
The Welsh Sports Association (WSA) will continue to state the case for the sport and leisure sector’s immediate need for additional support, as we await Wednesday’s announcement.
We will continue to monitor and engage with Welsh Government and the Senedd to make the case and to keep our members as updated and aware as possible regarding the issues that are pertinent to them.
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.