Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
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.
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 agreemaybe
you do notwho should be responsible for that strategy,
which also begs the question: what is the role of government in
(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 poolsand I come back to the point where
I startedthat 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.
(Mr Sparkes) Because the cost of hiring is too high.
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
(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
(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
(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.
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
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
(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.