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Andy Moran wants help for leisure sector

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LOOKING FOR A LITTLE BIT OF HELP  Andy Moran from the Movement Gym.

Ger Flanagan

FORMER Football of the Year Andy Moran has called on the Government to introduce a number of tax reliefs in the leisure industry which he believes will be ‘huge’ in avoiding job losses in the sector in the west of Ireland.
Ballaghaderreen native Moran, who owns and runs the popular Movement Gyms in Castlebar and Claremorris, was speaking on behalf of Ireland Active’s pre-budget 2021 submission.
They’re asking for tax reliefs, grants and a VAT reduction and Moran fear that the sector is getting left behind in terms of overall importance in the pandemic.
“Too much of the crisis has been about one sector and not the other sector,” the former Mayo senior captain told The Mayo News last week. “Public health has to be number one of course, no one is arguing that.
“But there is an element here if we’re moving away, and maybe losing the run of ourselves in terms of the economy, or the other health issues like mental health, physical health, obesity, kids interacting with each other and that social interaction – we’re losing all of this.
“So in that terms, this is huge. We provide facilities … like a lot of community gyms around the country … where people can go to a socially healthy environment and that is one huge thing.
“Then you move into the economy side of it. Our business alone provides 24 jobs in the west of Ireland, in Castlebar and Claremorris. Let’s be honest, without grant aid and without help, every job from my own to everyone else is under a small bit of threat and that’s not trying to scare monger. That’s just the reality of what we’re into.
“For us to keep our jobs, to keep people in the west of Ireland, to keep people in a safe and healthy environment, we’re not asking for much. We’re asking for a small VAT reduction, a few little schemes, and these are going to keep services within local communities open for as long as we can.”

‘Enormous impact’
According to Ireland Active, the representative body for the health and leisure sector, Covid-19 has had an ‘enormous impact’ on the ability of the sector to generate income.
For example, compared to this time last year, the sector is experiencing a 60 percent decline in footfall, an average income loss of 65 percent, a 79 percent reduction on swimming lessons income and a massive 76 percent reduction on group exercise income.
Moran points out that the Movement Gym, situated across from MacHale Park in Castlebar, had the capacity to hold up to 50 people at any time pre-pandemic, but right now they’re currently operating at nine people on each of the two floors.
However, Moran feels that the sector is struggling to voice their problems.
“Our biggest problem is that it’s very hard to get her heard,” he said. “Every week there is a bit of a crisis. At the minute we’re in the crisis for the education and kids going to college and things like that.
“So it’s very hard to be heard and it’s very important for us to get our voice out there. They [Government] have been okay to us from now. But a lot of us now are off the wage subsidy scheme. While a lot of businesses are getting back to ourselves and on our feet.”
Specifically, Ireland Active is looking to reduce the VAT rate to five percent from 2021, for Covid-19 swimming pool subsidy grants to be introduced, an extension of emergency reliefs until 2021 and for a Sports Capital scheme, similar to the Bike for Work.

‘Ongoing struggle’
Moran admitted it is an ongoing struggle to keep the swimming pool in the leisure centre open to the public due to the loss of revenue and the rising costs.
While he maintains that the industry is not trying to impose a greater importance than any other struggling sector right now, he is open to the idea of meeting with the Government to underline the many benefits the sector boasts.
“I think sometimes we forget what small gym and leisure facilities like we have in Castlebar give to the community,” he said. “People have a place to go and socialise that isn’t the pub. We’re trying to make people healthier, in terms of their physical health, cutting down heart disease, helping their lungs, cutting down obesity, we’re the facility that does that, in a safe way.
“If you look at the leisure centre, we have children coming in for the first time using a pool, I think our oldest member is 88 years-of-age, so you have every range of person coming in and being social and staying healthy.
“All we’re looking for is is a bit of help and I think Ireland Active have put out fair criteria.
“With that loss of income that we have seen over 2020, at the end of the year we will know that we’re not going to be hit with this bigger tax bill. The 4 percent VAT cute is huge for us and the swimming pool grant it would be amazing for councils.”