Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 76)



  60. As far as I can see in London water polo can probably only use two pools regularly, which is why we hardly have water polo teams in London. Would that be fair?
  (Mr Winter) Yes, there are two pools which provide deep water pitches; one is Gurnell pool at Ealing and the other is Crystal Palace, yet Gurnell pool does not provide an international sized water polo pitch. This is why, when we advise local authorities on the design of swimming pools, we ask them to be as flexible as possible in the design, which is the use of movable floors so you can actually get deep water in the same pool as can also be used for mothers and toddler classes as well. A prime example would be the diving pool in the Manchester Aquatic Centre, which has a movable floor so that it is available for 10-metre diving, it is used for water polo on a regular basis because it provides deep water and it is also used for the teaching of swimming as well. Cambridge have a similar pool and so do Southampton. We advocate pools which can be used flexibly so they can help with the programming which Mr Riley has just been talking about. That way you can almost get a quart into a pint pot.

  61. Archimedes springs to mind. Then it seems to me the difficulty is that for many local authorities who primarily want to be able to provide a local swimming alternative for families, the flume option became the thing of the 1980s and 1990s which in many cases does not allow for lane swimming at all and I think it is true that Swiss Cottage was deliberately built one inch short so that it could not be used for competitive swimming.
  (Mr Winter) I do not think that is quite correct.

  62. That is what they maintain.
  (Mr Winter) That is a claim wherever you are. I remember when I worked in Manchester that the Wythenshawe pool in Manchester was said to be slightly short for international events. In fact it was something like 17 metres short for international events.

  63. Indeed the swimming pool in High Wycombe was built as a 50-metre pool, but then the council decided to put a wall up half way down it because all the parents wanted to have a special area for kids and that wall is meant to be movable, but it has never moved.
  (Mr Riley) Not to deride the aspect of leisure pools, leisure pools have a place, particularly in introducing children to swimming and to water so they can enjoy it, they can get fun from it and from that they can then progress to competitive swimming.

  64. I notice that in the Sport England memorandum it says that there are currently in excess of 3,000 swimming pools in England alone. I am a Welsh MP, so I do not know how many there are in Wales as well. Then in the DCMS report it says that there are currently around 1,400 public swimming and leisure pools in England, which means that more than 50 per cent of the swimming pools in Britain are not public ones. Is there any way in which local authorities or government could make sure that all these new swimming pools which are being built by David Lloyd and the private sector could have times of the day when they are available to swimming clubs and things? A private/public partnership.
  (Mr Sparkes) The ASA certainly have started to develop good working relationships with David Lloyd and Cannon's and the other people. We run a badge scheme and if you have not bought one of my badges, then you are sad because I sell 1.6 million per year to parents, to children. They come to us because they want to work with us, to train their teachers, because they want to run our badge scheme and because they see us adding value to what they are doing. We are working with them and they are developing their programmes. To David Lloyd and Cannon's their swimming pools are very important because they are a high profit area; they are their second highest profit area. We do work with them, but sadly they have not yet built the bridge across to the local authority. That is why we stress the importance of having a local swimming strategy. You referred to the dilemma swimming has: it is so popular that everybody wants to get into the pool.

  Mr Bryant: And the best pool is an empty pool as far as I am concerned because you can swim up and down.

Mr Thurso

  65. From the evidence we have heard both now and earlier this morning and indeed from my own experience running a leisure company in a past life, it seems there are very different requirements by very different groups of people which we have just been talking about. There is the leisure side, which requires a different shape of pool, a completely different way of running it, the health side is quite different when you are into water therapy, thalassotherapy, whatever it may be and of course the one you are perhaps most interested in, which is the dedicated sport side. The word Mr Riley used was that it has to be a compromise. My question is: does it have to be a compromise at all? Should we not in fact be looking at a national strategy rather than lots of local strategies, which actually says the elite does not have to operate with everybody else. If we want an elite we have to create facilities for an elite. In that regard, if you agree—maybe you do not—who should be responsible for that strategy, which also begs the question: what is the role of government in all this?
  (Mr Sparkes) We have developed a national facility strategy and we have worked on it with Sport England. What we have done is identified the need for competition facilities, for example, we have identified the need for training facilities, we have identified the need for eight-lane 25-metre facilities in every county, in every large urban area. At the end of the day, when it comes down to it and you look at a specific area to meet the community needs, it has to be a community based decision because you have to look at transport, you have to look at where the community now sits. There are many swimming pools and some of them might be in the wrong place now in terms of where the communities are they serve, in terms of where the transportation runs. Those are the issues which have to be developed locally. From our point of view we can say to you that yes, there is a need for more 50-metre pools, yes there is a need for more eight-lane 25-metre pools in counties and in large conurbations. We can tell you that now and that is in a document we can provide you with. The important point there is what we cannot do is make decisions about local community needs. All we can do is say these are the issues that local community needs to consider in deciding what its facility requirements are.

  66. Is that not precisely the compromise which is that you say here is a need, but by the way we cannot do anything about it, we have to hand it over to somebody else which will inevitably compromise it?
  (Mr Sparkes) We do help and that is what my colleague Noel Winter does. He is working all the time with local authorities, helping and guiding them into deciding what facilities they need to meet their local requirements, very often helping them through that thought process.
  (Mr Winter) I get asked by local authorities to talk to them about Lottery bids or new swimming developments. The first question I ask the local authority is who they want to use the facility, who is going to use the facility. Quite often they do not have an idea. They say they want a 25-metre six-lane pool or whatever it is and I have to go back and ask them how they are going to use it, how it meets the general needs of the community, where their swimming strategy is. Then we start talking to them about developing swimming strategies and look at what they have already and see how the new facilities are going to complement what they have already. It seems wrong to me that if you look at large city, every swimming pool should be a rectangular pool where people can swim up and down. There is a need for leisure facilities and we do not argue against leisure facilities. What we believe is that they should complement the existing facilities so that within large areas or even in small areas there is something which can meet all the needs.

  67. Forgive me, what I am driving at is something which is slightly different which is the point that if you want to win medals and gold medals regularly at Olympic Games, you need dedicated facilities which actually do not have anybody else coming into them. If you are going to do that you cannot go and talk to local authorities because no local authority, with the possible exception of London, is capable either of wanting it or delivering it. Therefore you are outside local authorities and you are talking to national government.
  (Mr Sparkes) We are with you now. I am sorry we probably did misunderstand the question. You are absolutely right that in terms of training facilities for what we need it has to be a national strategy. We have tried to identify that we need a network of 50-metre pools—and I come back to the point where I started—that we can access at the right time at affordable prices. If we were in Australia, it would probably be free because there is a culture of wanting to provide that facility. The one issue which was interesting was that when we talked about our Lottery grant it was very hard to compare our Lottery grant with other sports because we commit such a significant proportion of our Lottery grant to hiring facilities to perform our sport. That is an issue. I agree with Mr Fabricant. It is perverse that because we do not do well, you cut our grant. That is absolutely perverse. If anything it should have been increased. Be assured I told them that. If you were doing that same assessment today, given the performance of athletics at Edmonton and the performance at Fukuoka it would be the other way round. We are making short-term decisions which are just daft. It is typical of what we do. Instead of saying this is going to take a long time, because as a nation we have under-invested in sport, because we are a long way behind the rest of the world, we have to make a long-term commitment and investment. We have to do it and stay with it and stick with it. If we want to win medals at the Olympics, it is not a quick fix, it is a long-term investment. Yes, we do want facilities we can get into. There are facilities out there now, 50-metre pools, which we cannot afford to access. Aldershot is a facility which was partly funded by the Ministry of Defence. We cannot afford to access it. The University of East Anglia, we cannot afford to access it.

  68. Why?
  (Mr Sparkes) Because the cost of hiring is too high.

Ms Shipley

  69. It seems very clear to me that the swimming strategy will be something which will feature in our report, so much has been brought up: health, social inclusion, leisure, national, international excellence. So much of this has revolved around having more money, except for the contribution by Mr Juba who said the privatisation of pools and the delivering of the contracts and who is setting up those contracts is having a significant effect on children's ability to get what they need out of the pools.
  (Mr Juba) And adults.

  70. I should like you to expand on that.
  (Mr Juba) Some of the issues as I have been going round the country are that certainly swimming clubs are finding it extremely difficult to pay their way, increasingly so. Anita Lonsbrough alluded to this in the paper she put forward. It is also worth noting that the price of pool entry in the period between 1998 and 2001 has increased about £1.30 and £2.30 on average, depending on which part of the country you are in and which local authority you are in. This is bound to have an impact on those who cannot afford to go in. We are back to these issues of social exclusion and the difficulties for ethnic groups and the whole area. The funnel of swimmers is much smaller than it possibly might be.

  71. Who is responsible for these contracts at the moment?
  (Mr Riley) The local authority.
  (Mr Juba) Yes.

  72. So you are saying that the local authority is not paying enough attention to those who cannot afford to come in and therefore the privatised companies in these leisure facilities are targeting the richest groups of people, basically working adults.
  (Mr Riley) It is the financial pressure the local authorities are under to meet a bottom line. It started with competitive tendering. That drove interest towards the financial bottom line. Although competitive tendering has gone away we now have best value but those financial restrictions are still there on local authorities and they have to try to make as much money as they can from those services whilst still providing a community need. That is part of that compromise again.

  73. So the bottom line is exactly what I have just said. By the contracts they are writing, they are actually, by default if you like, targeting working adults.
  (Mr Riley) Apart from a few local authorities which these days are giving free swimming to local children.
  (Mr Juba) It is a natural dichotomy.

  74. It is a disgrace, is it not, that working adults who could probably pay to go privately cannot actually access the so-called community based ones or they are getting squeezed out of them? If you are poorer, lower income, child, teenager what have you, you are being squeezed out because of the way these contracts are being necessarily written.
  (Mr Juba) Indeed many of the adults who do go to public pools also go to private pools, which is what my study is showing.

Mr Doran

  75. An observation. Until this Committee established their inquiry to be honest swimming had not figured on my radar, apart from my own interest in sports and the fact that I occasionally go swimming. I had not really thought about structures. Reading through the evidence has been fascinating and I now see just how important it is at a whole range of levels. It did worry me when reading the reports and hearing the evidence today, particularly from the ASA. There are lots of interesting things in here but I could not work out whether this was a strategy or a wish list. As a politician we go back to basics and the fact that I had not really seen swimming on my radar suggests to me a lack of campaigning zeal which has me a little worried about the question of whether there is a strategy and how you go about selling that strategy. As a fairly active politician, I am not aware of it, or at least I was not until this inquiry was established. I should like to hear a little more about how you press your case, particularly with government and just who the evangelists are in the sport.
  (Mr Sparkes) I suppose really the bulk of our work is done at local authority level because at the end of the day they are the providers. We have a team of ten regional development officers, apart from the advice from Sport England, and their job is to work with local authorities to develop swimming strategies. That includes making sure that there are links between the education programme and our voluntary club programme and a link towards the elite end of the sport and that every aspect of the sport is catered for. We find that by working with people in that way we can develop our strong strategies with them locally, which they then buy into. In terms of our strategy at the top level, which is our requirement for competition pools, our requirement for training facilities, that is very much done with Sport England by talking to them. Again, an essential ingredient in that is a partner, a local authority, prepared to commit to that facility expenditure and Sport England are in a sense funders of that through the Lottery if they see that as a step in our strategic plan.
  (Mr Riley) To put that into context, local authorities put in over £0.5 billion every year to operate. Really I should say the champions are the local authorities and the commitments and the belief that they show in providing and operating those facilities for the communities they serve. It costs an awful lot of money but local authorities recognise the benefits they bring to the societies they serve.
  (Mr Sparkes) There is one particular area of the country which has a particular problem and that is London. The particular problem of London is that because London tends to work through its various boroughs, which are themselves relatively small and have in some cases big areas of deprivation within them, although London is perceived to be wealthy there is a lot of deprivation. They are finding it very difficult now. If you look at London and compare it to Paris where there are 21 50-metre pools and you look at London with Ealing and Crystal Palace, it demonstrates that there is a need in London itself for a wholly fresh, new approach and a strategic approach to say London needs to have a proper swimming strategy. We have approached the GLA who have a few other problems on their plate like an Underground to sort out. The point is that there is a need there in a particular case. I thought I should mention that because it is a very specific problem.

  76. You heard the evidence earlier that all over the country there are historic pools in difficulty. We shall be hearing later from some of the people who were the superstars of your sport. I am still not conscious of any national strategy developed by yourselves to raise the profile of your sport to get the national attention you clearly need, if the major projects you have all talked about in your evidence are ever going to be delivered. How often do you knock on the Sports Minister's door for example?
  (Mr Sparkes) With the previous Sports Minister quite often, but I have yet to meet the new one.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We are most grateful to you, gentlemen. We shall now move on to our final group of witnesses.

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