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Mayor calls for government to step in to ‘save our sports’

Mayor John Biggs has written to the Prime Minister calling for the government to step in to ‘save our sports’ and provide a financial lifeline for council gyms and leisure centres.

During the lockdown gyms and leisure facilities, which are operated in Tower Hamlets by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) under the ‘Better’ brand, were closed in line with government advice to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. With facilities closed for over four months it has resulted in a major loss of income to GLL which operates across 12 other boroughs in the capital.

At a Cabinet meeting last week, the Mayor agreed a new funding deal that would pay a management fee of £593k to GLL to provide it with a financial lifeline. At the same time the council has begun a ‘safety first, phased approach to re-opening leisure centres’ which has seen 4 centres initially re-open with ‘Covid safe’ measures in place.

In his letter the Mayor highlights to the Prime Minister that with the council’s finances having also been hit by Coronavirus, government needs to step in to secure the long-term future of public sector leisure centres. The letter highlights that while in some cases the government has said where losses are more than 5% of a council’s planned income from sales, fees and charges the government will cover them for 75p in every pound lost, it does not apply in this case to the council’s leisure contract.

The Mayor also challenged the Prime Minister to honour his pledge made before the 2012 Olympics for a “massive sporting legacy” to ensure no matter what people’s background or where they lived they would have access to quality sports and leisure.

Mayor John Biggs said: “It’s important that the Prime Minister listens so residents can access gyms and leisure facilities as part of the Olympic legacy we were promised. When the government is promoting an anti-obesity campaign, investing in these facilities would be the best way to help my residents and support our future Olympians in Tower Hamlets.”

Councillor Sabina Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts & Brexit said: “We’ve done the right thing by stepping in now to protect our gyms and leisure centres. However all councils are facing a budget black hole due to Coronavirus, and the way that government has designed some of the support councils can access means our gyms and leisure facilities are missing out. It would be a shame for government to announce the reopening of leisure centres across the country, only to then not intervene to give support which risks them closing their doors again.”