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72-73 FREE SWIMMING:SPN Master pages 19/11/08 09:04 Page 2
spnfeature
50
OVER
authorities reject
Government’s
free swim hopes
The scheme to offer free swimming to every pensioner and child in the UK
was heralded as a major development when announced by the Government.
But this autumn the decision making process at local authority level has not
been going well with one in five councils saying ‘thanks but no thanks’
16s across the district has been rejected – us in Government subsidy, this will almost
by a single vote – and a £60,000 grant certainly be insufficient to cover the cost of
turned down. free swimming. Given the financial climate,
Councillors said no to £24,380 for each this may not be affordable.
of the next two financial years, together “It is in any case difficult to make
with a one-off grant of £12,047 to make commitments at this stage when budget
improvements to Derwent Pool. priorities for the coming two years have
Corporate Director Paul Cresswell said not been agreed.”
the authority would need to find £35,000 Children taking part in Birmingham
from its budget to cover the cost of swimming club events will miss out as
running junior swims if, as estimated, members must continue to pay because
there was a 70% increase in demand to they participate in closed sessions.
use the facilities. Under-16s in Birmingham already qualify
And, with the council in a “difficult for free swimming at certain times if they
financial position” during the current buy a council leisure passport, but the new
economic climate, he added members offer will do away with the need to register
would face even tougher decisions when while also providing lessons at no charge.
they came to make £500,000 of savings to Cllr Hassall said: ”The Government is
balance next year’s books. being quite specific about this. The money
Describing the offer as a “poisoned can only be used to pay for an open
chalice”, Cllr John Raper, Chairman of the session, that is sessions that are open to all
council, feared the increased demand people. Club sessions are not open to the
could lead to “angry people” unable to general public.
use the facilities. “We have to stick to what the
He added: “Common sense is telling me Government wants us to do. If I started
O
ver 50 local authorities have that it would be remiss of me to accept funding club sessions they could come
rejected free swimming for this as it is ill-thought out from the down on me and take the money away.”
children and pensioners under a Government’s point of view. I would rather Leeds City Council has said yes to the
heavily promoted Government have the money and try and make our programme even though it will cost
scheme which was hoped would give free facilities work through Community Leisure £100,000.
time in pools to the young and the old. than have a free for all.” Poole’s decision not to give free swimming
The national scheme offered £140m of Salisbury District Council will be taking has been attacked as “incomprehensible” by
funding to local authorities from April next advantage of the scheme, but plans to opposition councillors.
year to provide free swimming. introduce free swimming three months The council confirmed a decision that it
All over the country, councillors have ahead of the government-funded could not afford to subsidise the shortfall
been debating the detail outlined in the programme, at a cost of up to £16,000. in funding for its Olympic legacy scheme,
Government’s hopes to provide free Cllr Brian Dalton, the council’s portfolio joining Bournemouth and Christchurch in
swimming. holder for community initiatives, said; “As rejecting it.
And while most councils – over 300 have a council, we already place a high priority Government money of £50,774 for each
said yes to free swimming – an increasing on encouraging active leisure amongst all of the first two years would only provide
number fear that although the of our residents. funds for the Dolphin and Rossmore pools
Government was offering grants to cover Exeter City Council has signed up to and not for Broadstone, which would cost
the cost of the free entry there would still provide free swimming for the over-60s at over a further £35,000.
be substantial hidden costs. three major Exeter pools but not for The council originally said it would cost
Many thought the grants would not children. They have applied for £32,000 £10,000 in each year but working on an
cover the cost of the huge demand from the Government to subsidise the cost estimate of a 25% take-up, it has now
created by offering free swimming. for over-60s and are waiting for a decision. estimated a £52,000 shortfall for each of
Typical is Ryedale District Council in The report further said: “Although we the first two years and £102,000 when
Yorkshire where free swimming to under- do not yet know the amount available to funding ceases.
72 swimming pool news DECEMBER 08 Digital edition available at www.swimmingpoolnews.co.uk
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