Public leisure services and consequential funding discussed in Senedd
The future of public leisure and the consequential funding from the UK Government’s £63m support package for swimming pools were discussed in the Senedd on Wednesday 24th May, with Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport Dawn Bowden giving evidence to the Local Government and Housing Committee.
Upon questioning about the consequential, the Deputy Minister confirmed that Welsh Government had not yet decided how to use the money.
“That’s the important principle of devolution; any consequential that we get is a matter for the Welsh Government to determine where it will be most effective.
“We think it will be about £3.5m in consequential from the £63m that was announced for swimming pools in England. So, those discussions are still going on, in Welsh Government, about what the most effective use of that money will be.”
The Deputy Minster went on to confirm that, of the £3.5m, only £1.2m would be revenue funding while the rest would be capital funding.
“On swimming pools, the big ask has been about support for energy bills… If we’ve got £1.2m available to help 120 swimming pools with energy costs, that isn’t going to go anywhere near touching what they need.
“The £3.5m is still under consideration, but I think there is a much wider conversation to be had about how swimming pools in particular manage their energy efficiency for the longer-term and not just short-term fixes around dealing with very high energy bills as of today.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for the leisure sector for some considerable time to come,” she continued, “and I don’t think there are any easy or quick fixes to that.”
Dawn Bowden confirmed that Welsh Government will continue to press UK Government for change, stating “we have called on and continue to call on the UK Government to use its policy levers around energy costs”.
“That is not a devolved matter, that is a matter for the UK Government and, as you know leisure centres and swimming pools were excluded from the UK Government’s scheme for receiving the level of support they needed with energy bills.”
Future of Public Leisure in Wales
The future of public leisure services was also discussed at length during the evidence session.
The cost-of-living presents the sector with existential challenges, and the Welsh Sports Association (WSA) continues to engage with Welsh Government on these issues; in her briefing paper to the Committee for Wednesday’s evidence session, Dawn Bowden wrote:
“For instance, the Welsh Sports Association reported operators of swimming pools were reducing water temperatures to save money… My officials will continue to monitor the situation with local authority partners and stakeholders, such as Swim Wales and WSA, as it evolves.”
This threat has led some to question whether leisure should be made a statutory service provided by local authorities.
When asked about this issue, the Deputy Minister said that “legislating for the provision of leisure services probably outweighs the perceived benefits because, again, this is an area of public service provision that is best determined by the local authority in terms of what the needs of their communities are.”
Earlier in May, Councillor Carwyn Jones from Isle of Anglesey County Council and Councillor Rob Stewart of Swansea Council gave their suggestion of clear vision and strategy for the leisure sector, alongside adequate funding for non-statutory services, for its stability and prosperity heading into the future.
Talking about the importance and future of public leisure, the Minister stated that “our leisure services – whether it’s swimming pools, leisure centres, areas of outdoor recreation – have a huge role to pay in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and fits very much into our programme for Government around healthy living and participation in physical activity”.
“There are many cross-Government benefits to people actively using leisure services to improve their own health and wellbeing,” she continued, “and, as I say, that very much is a Government priority.”
Innovation within the sector was also discussed in Wednesday’s Local Government and Housing Committee evidence session, with co-location of services, such as leisure, libraries and health services into single sites branded as “very effective” where it has taken place thus far by Dawn Bowden.
A full video of the session and transcript will be available on the Senedd website.
The WSA will continue to work with the Welsh Government and Sport Wales on the future of public leisure.
We are committed to providing as much support as possible for our membership base 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.
Contact the WSA team to discover ore about how we can support!