AN entrepreneur whose gym chain is headquartered in Darlington has criticised the Government for not allowing fitness clubs to reopen.

UK entrepreneur and Dragon Duncan Bannatyne OBE has warned the Government of the serious negative impact of delaying the re-opening of health clubs. He is the executive chairman and owner of the Bannatyne Group, which operates fitness clubs at 72 sites throughout the UK, two of which are in Darlington.

He said: “I wrote to 40 MPs and asked them to come and look around our health clubs to see what measures we put in place but just one came.”

When asked if he sees the difference between a busy pub and a gym, Mr Bannatyne added: “Someone suggested there’s more tax from beer sales than a gym membership. Members are very keen to come back and want to when it’s safe to do so.”

In advance of the Government’s announcement on June 23, he had supported representations to the Government by the industry body UK Active and written to cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister, the chancellor and the culture secretary to spell out the effects of leaving the sector in limbo.

The main problem is not that the Government has delayed the re-opening of health clubs, but the lack of a working date for the future, which is causing massive financial uncertainty.

Mr Bannatyne is now offering specialist staff from his firm to join the DCMS Taskforce on the re-opening, so that detailed knowledge can be shared.

The Bannatyne Group is already starting to close clubs, with eight under threat. Of the 190,000 people who work in the sector, Mr Bannatyne expects at least 25 per cent or nearly 50,000 people to be at risk of losing their jobs.

Around 70 per cent of his 200,000 members wanting to return using the facilities as soon as possible.

Mr Bannatyne added: “The Government’s re-opening policy is full of inconsistencies.

“Businesses known to hit the long-term health of the country, like pubs, are allowed to re-open, but businesses that can get people fit enough to fight viruses remain closed. If there was, God forbid, to be a second wave of the Covid-19 virus, having a population that is as fit as possible will be a significant advantage.

“It is appalling that the scientists who are playing God will our lives and restricting our freedom have not visited one of our health clubs to see the measures that we are able to take.”