Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Do we have one?
  (Mr Sparkes) I have to say that the previous speakers demonstrated this particularly. The local authority has to have a strategy which says swimming is a popular sport. There are 11.9 million people who swim regularly in this country. That is an awful lot of people. It is the most popular sport with young people. It is number one with young ladies. It is number two with boys; I will not give any prizes for guessing what is number one. At the end of the day they want to swim and the local authority have to provide a strategy which says, this is about how we are going to do parent and children classes, this is how we are going to deliver swimming for schools, this is how we are going to help the clubs, the voluntary sector, this is how we are going to help the elite.


  41. What about social exclusion as well? Could you say something about that?
  (Mr Sparkes) I believe swimming is ideally suited to deal with issues of social exclusion because it is relatively speaking—relatively—a cheap sport. You do not need an awful lot of equipment. Clubs are essentially voluntary units and we believe that we are ideally suited to bringing the socially excluded into pools. We know that where we operate in inner city areas where there are high ethnic communities, they come in to learn to swim to some degree. What we have not yet done is got them to connect with the elite end of the sport and that is a challenge on us, which we are working on.

Derek Wyatt

  42. How many local authorities do not have a swimming strategy?
  (Mr Sparkes) Quite a lot of local authorities do not have a swimming strategy. One of the first local authorities which developed a swimming strategy was Leeds. It would not be a surprise that Leeds has produced a number of interesting and exciting swimmers, Adrian Moorhouse is probably the most well-known example. Leeds had a total strategy. What we are now trying to do is to encourage more and more local authorities to have this strategy so that they actually see how they are going to deliver swimming. It also demonstrates what their facility requirements are. Do they need more community pools? Do they need a 50-metre pool? How are they going to meet the needs of their community?

  43. On the Isle of Sheppey where I am, which is an island—I know we are an island nation—we have a pool which is just falling to pieces. It leaks, it has concrete fatigue, the local authority cannot afford to rebuild it or replace it so we shall not have a swimming pool for 35,000 people which at the weekend doubles to 70,000 people because we have a lot of caravan sites and the Eastenders come down to their caravans. We will not have a swimming pool on the island. Should there not just be a strategy that per head of population, like France does with its tennis and athletics and its swimming, there should be a certain type of pool which should be available for which the state should pay.
  (Mr Sparkes) I would agree with you that there should be a swimming pool on the island because there should be local community pools which people can access. They should be basic 25-metre pools to suit the needs of the community and to accommodate swimming in schools through the education programme. That is why we believe it should be a total strategy, not one which sits here for the local authority and here for education, but they should be locked together.

  44. I thought the Government published a sports strategy two years ago? Where was swimming in that?
  (Mr Sparkes) Swimming was addressed within the sports strategy but not specifically addressed because it was a general sports strategy.

  45. Is there a strategy at all then?
  (Mr Sparkes) If you read our facility strategy, which we worked on with Sport England, that says develop a strategy for swimming, see what the needs of your community are, from that strategy will evolve your facility requirements. I believe that is what we can have.

  Chairman: This has been a very useful Socratic dialogue but we do have six witnesses and we should like to hear from all of them.

Alan Keen

  46. We have become experts here on the national football and athletics stadium. I did hear a couple of years ago that you were really looking for a national swimming centre, which you do not really have, do you? Would that help?
  (Mr Sparkes) The answer is that we are close, because we are building a 50-metre pool at Loughborough University and we are currently in negotiations with the university on that facility, together with Sport England. We believe that will once and for all address our needs. The sad truth is today that there is no pool in the country, not one, where I can take the team to a training camp over a prolonged period of time. We believe that Loughborough University will meet that requirement. Obviously we are having to negotiate that with the University to make sure that they can afford to fit us into their programme. We believe we are very close now.

  47. Getting away from international sport, I explained my lack of enthusiasm for swimming but I love to lie on my back in the sunshine in a pool when I do not want to sit and read any longer on holiday. There is nobody more enthusiastic than I am to make sure that every child has the opportunity to learn to swim so they can either swim 50 lengths a day or just lie in a pool once a year on holiday. What are we not doing that we need to do?
  (Mr Juba) One of the reasons I am here today is because I am carrying out research into swimmers right across the country and that partly includes provision for school swimming. What school swimming is showing us at the moment is that fewer children are having the opportunity to go swimming, particularly those children who cannot afford to go swimming. Moreover, one of the things I am noticing on visiting the pools is the degree to which ethnic groups are not present in these pools and do not have the opportunity to swim. This is a real problem that swimming and swimming pool operators are going to have to address in the future. I reckon at this stage that probably less than two per cent of people who are swimming are from ethnic groups around the country which is a really very small percentage. There are many other issues at the moment over swimming pools which are being driven by the new commercially operated nature of pools in terms of privatisation, for instance. It is extremely difficult. I believe children are being marginalised in swimming pools because per square foot they are not worth as much as adults. Therefore, there is a continued movement towards adult lane swimming and fitness which is highly desirable but what it does is decreases the opportunity for children to swim across widths. There is more adult swimming during the day. These are some of the issues which need to be considered, particularly with school swimming. Many school pools are closing because schools just cannot afford to keep them up, the local management of schools has made it increasingly difficult for schools to deliver on Key Stage 2. Underneath the kind of competitive area of swimming there is a whole raft of difficulties for swimming as an activity which will impact eventually on our international performance. Another example is the increased number of drownings which were seen between 1998 and 1999: 54 per cent in people under the age of 14 or 15; I am not quite sure of the year. While we stand up quite well compared with other EC countries, this is obviously something which needs to be considered. We need to look at ways in which we can give children the maximum opportunity to swim, the opportunity to enter the sport of swimming to enjoy it, but above all to be safe in it. These are all issues which need to be addressed by swimming pool operators or perhaps people who are delivering the contracts to swimming pool operators. With the greater drive to commercialisation, it does not make sense for a swimming pool operator to spend more time servicing a low value customer which generally is a child.
  (Mr Payne) May I respond to the question of what needs to be done and address what is the single biggest issue about swimming pool facilities. Mr Wyatt has commented on the provision of the pool on the Isle of Sheppey. The single biggest issue we have in swimming pool facilities is the modernisation of existing pools. I think it was Mr Wyatt who mentioned the figure of £5 billion. The survey work we did in Sport England identified that the cost of bringing the existing 1960s and 1970s stock of swimming pools, which was the building boom for swimming pools, is around £2 billion to modernise that stock of facilities. To put that into context, Sport England, through the Lottery Fund, is currently funding 121 swimming pool projects. It is the single biggest sport in which we have invested the most money in terms of the Lottery. We have invested £220 million and that has created additional funding of £160 million. Collectively with partners we have put in £380 million. That sits against a demand and need to modernise that 1960s and 1970s stock at a cost of £2 billion. The initiative Sport England took earlier this year as part of the Treasury's capital modernisation fund was to put in a bid to the capital modernisation fund for a specific programme which is about modernisation of these community facilities. Unfortunately we have heard in the last few days that that bid has been rejected by Treasury. We feel we are doing quite a lot with the resources we have within the Lottery to address this issue. We consider that the scale of the problem and the scale of the need is far greater and that is why we took the initiative with Treasury through the capital modernisation programme. We would suggest that is the single biggest issue in pool provision we are facing as a country.

  Chairman: So that is £220 million for all those swimming pools as against £120 million for Wembley Stadium which has not been built.

Mr Flook

  48. I note that the USA is one of the world's leading swimming nations, primarily because their strength is built around swimming teams based at universities. One of the most impressive and thought out submissions we have received—I have certainly seen anyway—was that from Northampton who are looking at putting together a new swimming centre around University College in Northampton, so bringing together sports education, competition at top level and exercise swimming. My point is that seemed like very good value for £7.5 million. Would you believe that is good value?
  (Mr Winter) Yes, the scheme which is being talked about at Northampton is good value for money at £7.5million. It provides a 50-metre pool, which is of a flexible design. It has movable floors, it has a bulkhead which can separate the 50-metre pool into two 25-metre pools. By doing that you can actually begin to accommodate the needs of the whole of the community. You can have your elite swimmers using it as a 50-metre pool early in the morning with four or five of those eight lanes, which Northampton is, being used by elite swimmers and four or three of those lanes in the early morning being used by the members of the public who want to do lane swimming for fitness purposes. Later on in the day you can then split that pool into two 25-metre pools and then you can have community swimming taking place in one part of the pool, in one 25-metre pool and in the other part of the pool you can have elite swimming again training. What it will do is provide elite swimmers with training at the times they require. If you train in the morning at six o'clock, then you cannot be training at nine or ten o'clock at night; you have to train at four or five o'clock. It gives the elite swimmers the opportunity to train twice a day, once in the 50-metre lanes, which is what we require, and once in 25-metre lanes which is supplementary to training in the 50-metre lanes. Yes it is a good scheme. What I have to say is that we cannot necessarily compare ourselves completely with the United States. Our swimming is based upon the club situation. It is the small clubs around the universities and around those 50-metre pools which do the basic work with the swimmers and bring them up to a certain standard before they can get to the elite. This is what David said before.

  49. So that as a template still works, because I am told Northampton swimming club is very well organised.
  (Mr Winter) Yes, it will work.

  50. How many other Northamptons could there be?
  (Mr Winter) There could be a lot of Northamptons. What I would go back and say is that you have to remember that Northampton University are looking at it as all the swimming in Northamptonshire, not just the city of Northampton but the whole of Northamptonshire. You have to be careful if you go down the road of putting all your 50-metre pools into universities that they do not become for university and student use only, but are still there so that they can begin to cope with the needs of the local swimming clubs and the general community needs.

  51. A large element of the submission from Northampton is that it is not going to be used for the university but actually for the town and the hinterland around the town.
  (Mr Winter) Yes, that is correct in Northampton and it is a template for that sort of development.

Michael Fabricant

  52. I have been looking at the submission which was made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and there are a couple of interesting passages. They say that prior to Sydney swimming was classified as a priority one sport by UK Sport for the purposes of funding. Following the disappointing results of the 2000 Olympics, where Britain failed to win a medal, swimming became a priority two sport and its level of funding was cut. They went on to say that in fact the swimming events in Sydney were the toughest that had happened anywhere with 15 world records being broken. It was a pretty tough competition. It strikes me as being a bit odd that if we are going to put any money into a sport, when we do not do so well, we then put less money into it. I should have thought it would be more logical to put more money into it. Perhaps Mr Carpenter would like to comment on that.
  (Mr Carpenter) It is a question of the funding we have available. UK Sport looked at the priorities relating to both the Olympic medals which were won in Sydney and the likelihood of medal success in the future. What was decided was that there would be four level one sports, another four at level two. Swimming was originally classified at level one, but because of the results in Sydney and the expectation of future—

  53. You have given up on them.
  (Mr Carpenter) No, not at all, far from it; in fact completely the opposite. Swimming against the other sports and against the current medal potential, was assessed to be a level two sport. That said, there is still very, very significant investment going into swimming, in fact if anything the performance programmes have been enhanced since Sydney with the introduction of the world class potential and the world class start programmes which we are funding quite significantly. Whereas prior to Sydney there was probably something of the order of £1.5 million going into the performance programme, the figure now is up near the £3.5 to £4 million mark if you take the other programmes which have come on stream into account. We are far from dismissing swimming as being one of the priorities. Swimming is one of the fundamentals of the Olympic Games in particular and we shall continue and indeed UK Sport will continue to support them heavily.

  54. I am still not quite sure. Are you saying that the fact they have become a level two funded sport has nothing to do with the results at the Olympics?
  (Mr Carpenter) No, it does have a bearing in terms of the results from Sydney, but also in the immediate post-Olympic period after Sydney we and UK Sport carried out a very, very detailed survey of prospects for the future and indeed looking at the performances and the positions where the particular programmes were across each sport, a very, very detailed monitoring and evaluation study. The decisions which were reached were based on medal prospects for the immediate future and indeed medal prospects for the long-term future. Our feeling was with UK Sport that there were some other sports such as rowing and sailing for example which were probably likely to be medal heavier in the immediate future; swimming perhaps was one which was going to come through in the longer term. There is no reduction in commitment.

  55. Is there a correlation between the amount of money invested and the amount—to use your English, which is rather nice—of "medaling" which can come about?
  (Mr Carpenter) There is a correlation in terms of funding, but it has to be backed by the right performance programmes, the right performance director, the right coaches, the right support services in terms of pools and indeed backed by the athletes themselves.

  56. Are you saying if you put more money in they would not know what to do with it?
  (Mr Carpenter) No; not necessarily. There is no question that if further funding were made available, swimming would be able to make good use of it. We have to make decisions based on the priorities and the likelihood of individual sports winning medals. That is the decision-making process. We do not have a never ending trough of funding, as you are well aware, in terms of the Lottery money coming down, both on the capital and revenue side, so we had to look at the priorities and we are funding swimming at a level which we feel is sufficient for them to continue development.

  57. Mr Payne said that he thought the biggest need is to refurbish existing facilities and I suspect he is right. Also in this DCMS report it says that the Government believes it is for local authorities to ensure that spatial development plans—whatever that means—and local sports development policies reflect the importance of swimming and set aside sufficient investment to improve or if necessary replace existing facilities which was the point Mr Payne was making. Do you think local authorities have the money to do this?
  (Mr Payne) I would suggest that they very much have the money to do the strategies. Only around 30 per cent of local authorities in England have produced sport and recreation strategies, probably an even smaller number have produced swimming strategies. I cannot consider that there is insufficient funding to do the strategies to identify the need which must be the first step. I would agree that there is insufficient funding to look at the new provision requirements arising from that strategy and also to look at modernising the community aspect angles of local pools being very much a community resource. There is insufficient funding. What I would say is that in terms of the Lottery investment, swimming has been the sport which has benefited most in terms of total capital investment.

Mr Bryant

  58. I am amused by some of your titles. I like the More Places Directorate and the More Medals Directorate. These are lovely titles; very Orwellian. It seems to me that swimming is a sport where there are more conflicts between the different kinds of swimming people engage in than in any other sport available, whether it is leisure swimming because people want to go down flumes, or it is lane swimming where you want to kill any child who gets anywhere near you or swimming in front of you and where one day you are going to have to develop a code of conduct for swimming in lanes.
  (Mr Riley) We have one.

  Mr Bryant: Excellent. Aquaslides, the problems ethnic minorities have in terms of making sure that the Hasidic Jewish community can have access to swimming pools and so on, all of these things.

  Chairman: Particularly ethnic minority women.

Mr Bryant

  59. Indeed. We have not mentioned water polo and diving yet either. How does one resolve all those conflicts in swimming today?
  (Mr Riley) Pool managers try to do that by programming. We programme our pools more today than we ever have in the past. By programming, we look at what the needs are, we look at trying to meet those needs and programme the pool in terms of time slots to accommodate the needs. It is always going to be a compromise. The sad fact is that we do not have sufficient water space, we have insufficient pools. I take Mr Wyatt's point earlier on: we ought to have invested a lot more money in the infrastructure of pools in this country a long time ago. If we had more pools, then all those tensions you are talking about would not be present.

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