July Stimulus- Ireland Active seek urgent support for the Leisure, Health and Fitness sector
Government’s July Stimulus plan to help firms hit by the economic lockdown and subsequent restrictions was included in the coalition government’s programme for government laid out last month. The programme is centred around a new recovery fund targeting increased domestic demand and employment.
Ireland Active have written to government to request delivery of the commitments contained in the programme regarding support for the leisure, health and fitness sector as part of the July Stimulus package.
The Programme for Government places a renewed focus on exercise and wellbeing and aims for 60% participation in physical activity (46% currently) with swimming as a priority sport.
- Promote more physical exercise among all sections of the community, young and old, for the long-term health and benefit of society.
- Target overall participation in sport to reach at least 60% of the population by 2027.
- Place a strong emphasis on swimming, cycling, walking, and running, which are especially suitable for all generations.
Detailed in Ireland Active’s letter to Government are the adverse effects Covid-19 have had on the industry in relation to employment, loss of earnings and closure of facilities. In a survey of our members:
- 91% of facilities froze their memberships during closure, meaning little or no income was received for a period of 3-4 months in addition to the lost revenue from ‘pay as you go’ users
- 63% of members expect refund requests from up to 20% of members upon reopening
- 57% of members have suffered loss of revenue of between 85%-100% during closure, with the reminder all suffering significant losses
- 74% of our members employees benefitted from the temporary wage subsidy scheme which has given a lifeline for businesses and which must continue beyond the end of August
The effect of social distancing reduces capacity by circa 50% and this has the knock-on impact on income that can be generated by operators. Closure during lockdown have had an enormous impact on communities that rely on leisure centres, swimming pools and gyms for their social, physical and mental wellbeing.
Our asks of government which align with the programme for government include:
- Extension of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for the period of restrictions being in place due to the pandemic, to include provision for seasonal workers
- Extension of the exemption from rates for a period of 12 months
- Reduction in the VAT rate for sports facilities to 0%
- Sector specific grants which could be in the form of energy and operational grants (to cover rent, utilities, costs etc.)
- A state backed ‘leisure centre and gym’ voucher scheme, to encourage use of local facilities
- State backed loans for the sector with 0% interest and no repayments for 12 months
- Code of Conduct for commercial landlords put in place to avoid evictions during the pandemic and share the financial burden, together with a government support scheme
- Tax liabilities warehoused for a further 12 months until 2022
- SME Recovery Group established with representation from Ireland Active for our sector
- Sector taskforce established for the industry
Speaking about the asks of government in the July Stimulus package, Ireland Active, Chairperson, Joe Cosgrove said:
‘The Irish leisure, health and fitness sector has been one of the worst hit during the pandemic with the closure of the sector and subsequent loss of income for at least three months. To enable the industry to survive we are asking government to act urgently and deliver on the actions contained in the programme for government. If they do not, there will be mass closures and unemployment in the sector which will deprive every community in Ireland of much needed sport and leisure facilities. The industry makes a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of the nation which will be impacted unless action is taken.’
IRELAND ACTIVE ARE SEEKING THE GOVERNMENT’S URGENT SUPPORT OF THE LEISURE, HEALTH, AND FITNESS SECTOR IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS).
24th March 2020
Ireland Active, as the representative body for the leisure, health and fitness sector, are seeking the Government’s urgent support for the sector that has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Ireland Active’s members employ some 10,000 staff across 350 public and privately-owned leisure centres, gyms, swimming pools, fitness education providers and recreation facilities nationwide, most of whom are now closed. Each week 550,000 adults exercise in gyms and a further 300,000 swim in pools across the country, however this physical activity has now come to a halt.
Significant job losses along with the fact many businesses need to maintain considerable operating costs despite the shutdowns means that Covid-19 not only has had an immediate impact on the industry but also jeopardises long-term business viability in a sector that generates an estimated €500 million for the Irish economy each year.
Ireland Active is asking for Government Support for the industry through payment breaks for VAT payments, Local Authority Rates, Mortgage/Loan/Rent Payments, PRSI Payments and Water Charges as well as business support measures including utility/energy costs, employment supports, reduction of VAT to 0% and business grants. Ireland Active have suggested that the above measures be put in place for an initial period of two months and be reassessed thereafter as the situation regarding Covid-19 continues to develop.
Ireland Active are also keenly aware of the potential impact in terms of physical and mental health of the absence of normal exercise and fitness routines. Every week almost a million people avail of gyms and swimming pools to engage in physical activity. With personal exercise and swimming being Ireland’s most popular sporting activities, it is important that people still engage in the necessary physical activity to maintain health and wellbeing whilst complying with social distancing guidelines.
Taking part in exercise programmes online is one way that can be helpful. Ireland Active would recommend that everyone engaging such activity ensures that the fitness instructor is recognised by the Registered Exercise Professional (REPs). A list of all Registered Exercise Professionals can be found at https://www.repsireland.ie/member-directory
Conn McCluskey, Chief Executive of Ireland Active, said:
“Like so many industry sectors, the leisure, health and fitness industry has been particularly hard hit by the current Covid-19 pandemic. The initial priority was to support our members through this difficult and quickly evolving time. Our focus is now turning to safeguard the longer-term viability of our members business’s that play a crucial role in providing a place of leisure and physical activity for individuals, schools, exercise groups and clubs. Physical activity in turn is integral to improving and maintaining long-term health and well-being. It is for this reason that we are asking Government for support to minimise the immediate economic shockwave caused by the Covid-19 on this important business and community sector.”