Councillors have approved a rescue package of nearly three quarters of a million pounds for LED Leisure to ensure they can continue to operate as a result of losses incurred by coronavirus lockdowns.
East Devon District Council on Tuesday night heard that the forecasted losses from the implications of Covid-19 meant that without additional support, LED’s operations would not be viable, and would likely lead to closing of the facilities, particularly the swimming pools.
Prior to the second lockdown, leisure centres in Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, Axminster, Colyton, Exmouth and Honiton had reopened as well as swimming pools in Sidmouth, Honiton and Exmouth, but Broadclyst and Cranbrook leisure centres had remained closed.
The council agreed that an additional subsidy to LED of £732,275 to reimburse their actual net losses incurred to September 2020 resulting from Covid-19 is paid.
They also agreed that backdated from October 2020, a monthly review and payment is then made until the end of March 2021 to cover further net losses incurred, but that the total of any additional subsidy payment in the current financial year shall not exceed £1,339,000.
In the report to meeting, Charlie Plowden, service lead for countryside and leisure, said: “The financial position of LED is outlined in the report including their incurred costs to date and future projected losses as result of Covid-19.
“If the Council decide not to financial supported LED then their reserves are projected to fall to £14,000 by the end of November, a position which would not be sustainable.”
With leisure centres to be able to reopen in all three tiers from next week, Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said this was a good news story, and that with vaccinations a reality rather than a dream and a likely return to some sort of normality after Easter, this wouldn’t be an ongoing request from LED for more money.
He added: “We have integrated this extremely carefully financially and taken a cautions and prudent approach over how we pass the money over in tranches.”
The council also called for the district’s three MPs to as matter of urgency lobby ministers to ensure leisure trusts receive Covid-related leisure funding equitable to non-trust run leisure centres and to try and hold an urgent meeting with the relevant minister where they can explain the difficulty as a result of failure to provide funding and to demand it is immediately forthcoming.
Speaking in Parliament, Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, on Monday had added: “The communities I represent in East Devon in the south-west depend on their local gyms and leisure centres regardless of their age.
“For example, constituents in their 80s have contacted me this month, really disheartened about not seeing friends at weekly aerobic classes or swimming. They are some of the 1,000-plus signatories to the petition from my area.
“More than 500 members of the LED leisure centre group, supported by East Devon District Council, have emailed me asking for the physical activity centre to be recognised as essential and able to remain open safely over the winter months.
“It is important to recognise that we must stay healthy, but it is important that we do so safely in an environment designed to help people reach their goals.
“We should welcome the move from national to local restrictions next week. I believe that Devon should be in the lowest tier of restrictions to reflect the hard work and significant sacrifices that we have made to suppress the virus.
“As the Prime Minister announced, leisure centres and gyms will reopen next week—I may even sign up myself—but councils must explore every opportunity to safely reopen leisure centres to support those that they do not have a hand in running.”