12,000 jobs at stake in Leisure, Health and Fitness sector
Only half of employers in the leisure, health & fitness sector will employ close to the same levels of staff as before closure due to the pandemic. Early indications of job losses are set to continue unless immediate action is taken by Government. The sector which is responsible for getting 1 million people active each week in leisure centres, gyms and pools in Ireland, have felt the effects of social distancing and reduced capacity by circa 50% while having to maintain the same operational costs.
Ireland Active have called on government to deliver of the commitments contained in the Programme for Government regarding support for the leisure, health and fitness sector as part of the July Stimulus package. The industry body are asking for an extension of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for the period of restrictions being in place due to the pandemic, to support an industry which employs over 12,000 people. Gyms and leisure facilities will need sector specific grants in the form of energy and operational grants (to cover rent, utilities, insurance etc.) to survive.
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.’
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. While we have seen a positive uptake of physical activity during lockdown and during the good weather, in order to sustain this momentum into winter people will look to exercise in their local leisure facilities. Ireland Active is seeking a reduction in the VAT rate for sports facilities to 0% to reduce the cost to the consumer, along with an extension of the exemption from rates for a period of 12 months to ensure facilities can remain open to facilitate people getting active.
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. It’s members have also encountered difficulties in negotiating rent reductions, banking facilities, insurance reductions and other associated business costs. In a survey of Ireland Active members:
- 91% of facilities received little or no income during closure due to membership freezes for 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
- 60% of members have suffered loss of revenue of between 85%-100% during closure, with the reminder all suffering significant losses
- 74% of facilities used the temporary wage subsidy scheme which has given a lifeline for businesses and which must continue beyond the end of August into 2021
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, insurance 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