Local authority leaders have voiced concerns over the ability of councils to continue to provide leisure centres, which contribute to public health, without more Government investment.
The Local Government Association’s (LGA) warning comes in response to new data that shows one million more people have become physically active since 2015.
The data, gathered by Sport England from 180,000 respondents between May 2018 and May 2019, revealed that 1,015,700 more people have become more active over the last four years.
That takes the total number of active people – those doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week – up to 28.6 million.
Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England’s chief executive, described the increase as ‘really excellent news’.
However, Mr Hollingsworth also warned that the sports organisation’s research found that inequality impacted people’s ability to access leisure services.
‘Within the overall positive picture of these figures is a sobering reality – if you are well-off you are far more likely to be active than if you’re on a low income or less affluent,’ he said.
‘While there are complex barriers that stop less well-off people from getting active, this is an unacceptable inequality and one we’re starting to address in the work we are doing across the country – including piloting programmes in 12 local areas to tackle inequality.’
Responding to Sport England’s findings, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, emphasised that it was important to ensure councils are able to provide facilities to residents.
‘It is important that we also ensure our core leisure offer is maintained for all residents who want to increase their activity levels,’ he said.
‘Many of the facilities run by councils are ageing, particularly swimming pools, and could be updated to better meet the needs of communities and be more energy efficient and cost-effective to run.
‘It is therefore important that the Government looks to provide more funding for council-run facilities, in the same way that they have recently made important investments in cultural infrastructure, to ensure that councils can continue to provide excellent facilities and services for their residents.’