Council Leader's column - More challenges lie ahead for leisure trusts
Posted on 29 Jul 2020
When lockdown came into force back in March, no-one knew how long it would be before our society could fully open back up.
I think the optimists among us hoped it would be a matter of weeks before life returned to something close to normal.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to remain with us, it has become clear that we are going to have to live with many changes for the foreseeable future.
In many cases, these might be inconvenient or frustrating but it’s an unfortunate part of the reality in which we now find ourselves living.
As lockdown eases and many services and businesses re-open, others will be asked to patiently wait until it is safe and viable to do so. This is a real challenge for many, and that includes KA Leisure who operate leisure and recreational facilities across North Ayrshire.
Some activities, such as golfing and outdoor football on synthetic pitches for younger people, have been given the go-ahead to resume through the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown.
But others remain in limbo, such as swimming pools and the ice rink at Auchenharvie, with no real clarity about when such activities can restart.
Over the last week, parents and clubs who use the Auchenharvie ice rink have understandably reacted with disappointment to communications from KA Leisure that the facility may not open until January 2021, with gym facilities temporarily expanded into the ice rink area to maintain full gym capacity whilst adhering to physical distancing.
KA Leisure are in a very difficult position. They face a projected loss of income, as a result of Covid-19, of £2.8million through to March 2021 and are having to plan ahead without clarity, instead having to rely on the best information they can obtain from various sporting bodies and Public Health Scotland.
And they are not alone. It’s a hugely challenging time for leisure trusts across the country. Indeed, media reports last week suggested that one of the country’s biggest leisure trusts, Glasgow Life, may have to lose jobs amid the prospect of some community facilities not re-opening as a result of the pandemic. In England, one in three leisure centres are remaining closed amid warnings of financial peril.
This Friday, we are expecting a paper on leisure trusts to be tabled at the COSLA Leader’s meeting given the situation across the country.
It may be that by the time that meeting takes place, and that you’re reading this week’s column, that the First Minister’s latest update on the route map, due on July 30, the situation may have changed but, at the time of writing, the suggestion is that there may be no further easing of lockdown restrictions, including the previously mooted possibility of indoor gyms being allowed to reopen from July 31, as the full-time reopening of schools is prioritised.
Leisure trusts need guidance from the Scottish Government as they seek to plan ahead. Re-opening services won’t happen with the switch of a button - it will be a hugely complex operational matter which will need to meet the physical distancing, increased hygiene measures and staffing guidance that is finally agreed between the sporting bodies and Public Health Scotland.
And then there are the financial ramifications of the prolonged lockdown, and the reopening costs, for leisure trusts. North Ayrshire Council continues to support KA Leisure financially, including providing an additional £104,000 to KA Leisure for their 2019-20 year-end accounts to cover a small income shortfall caused by the Covid lockdown in March, but given the scale of the challenge nationally there is no doubt that support from central government will be necessary to sustain leisure facilities across the country.
It’s a difficult and worrying time and I will continue to liaise with parents and Clubs over the coming weeks but I want to reassure everyone that we will continue to work alongside KA Leisure as they step up their mobilisation of staff and facilities to deliver services safely in accordance with published guidelines.
Closing down facilities and services as we entered lockdown was difficult but it’s clear that re-opening them is an even bigger challenge and one which we are continuing to devote a lot of effort to.