Fitness industry bosses call for post-lockdown VAT relief and say: ‘We are an essential service’


itness industry bosses have called for additional sector-specific support and attacked the Government’s approach to the leisure industry as “a disgrace” as the new lockdown came into force.

Under the latest Covid-19 restrictions implemented on Thursday, hairdressers, beauty businesses and gyms were classified as “non-essential” services alongside segments of retail and required to close until December 2.

Any business which defies the rules could be fined up to £10,000.  

The Standard spoke to some of London’s fitness industry leaders, who said they are furious the Government chose to close them down. 

They said that many gyms will not be able to survive the shutdown, and argued fitness centres that have put in place measures to ensure they are Covid-secure should be allowed to remain open to help the nation stay mentally and physically healthy.


Gyms had reopened over the summer

/ PA )

It comes amid reports that some gyms around the country have even vowed to stay open, risking the £10,000 fine.

Colin Waggett, chief executive of luxury gym group Third Space – which has more than 20,000 members across its six London gyms – said the group had lost several million pounds since March, and that the new lockdown will see losses extended further.

Waggett is calling on the Government to offer the fitness industry the same VAT relief offered to the hospitality sector.

He said: “Their cost base is very similar to ours.

“We simply do not understand given all of our earlier comments why that support has not been made available for our sector too.

“We are now going to need the rent moratorium extended again, rates relief extended beyond the end of March and the same VAT relief that hospitality has had throughout 2021, so we can all clear the huge debts we have accumulated and get back on our feet.


Third Space operate six gyms around London

/ Third Space )

“The alternative is a wave of closures, job losses, and a loss of much loved and needed gyms and studios for the population of London.”

Sandy Macaskill, founder of bootcamp specialist Barry’s UK, concurred with his fellow gym boss.

He said that “most gyms made zero revenue for over four months” during the first lockdown, and that despite Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s extension of the furlough scheme to March 31, he knows many will be financially devastated by the latest restrictions. 

“We can’t do takeaways,” he said. “The government’s approach to the leisure industry has been a disgrace from the outset.

“While on the one hand Boris Johnson has spoken about the importance of staying fit in fighting the virus, the Government have repeatedly insulted the sector, first by reopening pubs before gyms, then by reducing VAT on fast food joints with no [specific] relief for our industry.”


Third Space CEO Colin Waggett was also behind Psycle

/ Daniel Hambury )

Several gym operators argued that since reopening over the summer gyms have not been found to be behind significant

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Health experts question Pence campaigning as essential work

Health policy specialists questioned White House officials’ claim that federal rules on essential workers allow Vice President Mike Pence to continue to campaign and not quarantine himself after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Campaigning is not an official duty that might fall under the guidelines meant to ensure that police, first responders and key transportation and food workers can still perform jobs that cannot be done remotely, the health experts said.

A Pence aide said Sunday that the vice president would continue to work and travel, including for campaigning, after his chief of staff and some other close contacts tested positive. Pence tested negative on Sunday and decided to keep traveling after consulting White House medical personnel, his aides said.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, was among those who tested positive. President Donald Trump, said early Sunday that Short was quarantining.

That usually means isolating oneself for 14 days after exposure in case an infection is developing, to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Pence was holding a rally Sunday in North Carolina, another one in Minnesota on Monday and three events in North Carolina and South Carolina on Tuesday. The most recent numbers show COVID-19 cases are rising in 75% of the country.

On Sunday, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told reporters that Pence “is following all the rules” from federal health officials. He called Pence “an essential worker” and said, “essential workers going out and campaigning and voting are about as essential as things we can do as Americans.”

However, the guidelines on essential workers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are aimed at folks like police, first responders and key transportation and food workers.

The Department of Homeland Security spells out 16 categories of critical infrastructure workers, including those at military bases, nuclear power sites, courthouses and public works facilities like dams and water plants.

“I don’t see campaigning on the list,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former Maryland state health department chief. “Anything that does not have to be done in person and anything not related to his job as vice president would not be considered essential.”

Dr. Thomas Tsai, a health policy specialist at Harvard University, agreed.

Helping to maintain the function of the executive branch of government could be considered critical work, but “we’ve always historically separated campaigning from official duties,” he said.

Pence also serves as president of the Senate, a largely ceremonial role outlined in the Constitution but one that stands to come into focus Monday.

The Senate was expected to vote Monday evening to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Pence’s vote is unlikely to be needed to break a tie, but his presence was expected for the vote.

If Pence’s official work as vice president was considered essential, the CDC guidelines say he should be closely monitored for COVID-19 symptoms, stay at least 6 feet from others and wear a mask “at all times

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