Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Chief Executive of the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management
1. Following comments of the ASA that
Local Authorities see children as "low value customers",
how are children being marginalised as users of pools?
2. Can the current complaints from clubs
about overcrowding and a lack of "water time and space"
be remedied by more effective and imaginative management of pools?
3. Overall, has the Government matched
its rhetoric on the value of swimming with resources and investment
in the sport?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide
evidence to the Committee on the sport of swimming. My comments
on the further issues raised are as follows:
1. CHILDREN AS
I believe that the ASA reference to children
being "low value" customers and hence being marginalised
relates to the fee structure of some swimming pools where child
swimming is subsided to a greater extent than adult swimming fees.
In the drive to maintain income levels some swimming pool operators
therefore provide greater opportunities to encourage adult swimmers
than for children for this yields greater income. I must point
out that this is not all pools, there are many that have sound
strategies in place that ensure children have opportunities to
learn to swim and to progress their swimming and also to have
time to play in water for fun. There are local authorities like
Glasgow that ensure that socio economic factors in no way interfere
with a child's ability to participate by providing swimming for
free with plenty of opportunities to exercise this right.
There are further aspects to this question,
which are included in my written evidence and that is that lane
and fitness swimming are an increasingly popular aspect of swimming
pool use and this trend results from peoples awareness of the
need to participate in health promoting physical activity of a
set duration on a number of occasions each week. Additionally
as a society we are pursuing more activities to participate in
as individuals. This is evidenced by the massive growth in health
and fitness clubs in the UK; there are now over 3,500. Health
and fitness and the use of a gym, just like swimming, are activities
that individuals can participate in, you do not have to be a part
of a team or have an opponent. Whilst this is a very positive
use of swimming pools and has a real benefit for those who take
part and for society generally by improving health it can present
problems for a pool.
In a finite swimming space lane swimming conflicts
with children's desires to simply play and have fun in water.
In effect the regime needed for lane swimming will inhibit use
by children. This factor is further compounded by the belief of
many authorities that children are simply not being taught to
swim to the same extent today as in previous years and for this
reason they do not pursue swimming as a leisure time activity
or hobby. Hence the pool operator is responding to changing demand.
2. BETTER PROGRAMMING
The problems affecting competitive swimming
clubs and their use of public pools is that their use of pools
is unlikely to be as cost effective to the pool operator as other
forms of swimming activity and there are likely to be other competing
demands on the pool from the community for pool time. For example,
lane swimming or fun sessions for children or swimming lessons
are extremely popular and will invariably provide a greater financial
return than a hiring to a swimming club. Swimming clubs to be
successful need a lot of water time. A high level competition
swimmer needs to train in dedicated water space twice a day for
five or six days a week, then the club needs at least one members
night to encourage new swimmers and then they also from time to
time must stage swimming meets. For these and other reasons swimming
clubs struggle to survive financially and therefore seek subsided
use of facilities.
In my experience a great many swimming pool
operators have exceedingly innovative and effective programming
of their pools. Pool operators see the need and the value of providing
competitive swimming. It is the tip of the sporting participation
hierarchy they seek to provide in developing sport, but in their
drive to limit their overall operational costs and burden to rate
payers cost effectiveness becomes the overriding factor in determining
the swimming pool programme. This is the compromise that I refer
to in my written evidence and spoke of to the Committee. With
so many competing aims and finite resources the only way to achieve
the sea-change that competitive clubs seek is for the local authority
pool operators to provide even greater subsidy to the club, and
to marginalize other forms of pool usebetter programming
may have some effect, but the real answer is to provide more facilities
for swimming and to accept that just like other forms of public
provision that benefit communities and society that these can
only be provided at a cost that is met from the public purse.
I don't believe the Government has matched its
rhetoric on the value of swimming for two principle reasons. Firstly
the ability to swim is a unique, lifesaving and life preserving
skill that should be ensured for every child and this simply isn't
the case. A majority of children may be achieving the Key Stage
2 requirement, but this in itself is not adequate to assure an
achievement level where the child feels comfortable in water,
out of their depth, or to enjoy the experience to wish to pursue
the activity of their own volition.
Secondly, the capital cost of our public pool
infrastructure was provided for almost entirely by local authorities
with very little assistance, if any from central government. Similarly,
local authorities provide the annual revenue cost of public pools,
which in 1996 was some £380 million. Whilst some of this
sum is provided from rates support grant the responsibility and
burden is still with local government rather than with central
government. The significant issue that now confronts the continuation
of swimming in this country is the estimated £2 billion that
is required over the next 10 years, to maintain and refurbish
our existing stock of swimming facilities to modern day standards.
This is where the assistance of central government is now most
required and in this respect I concur with the remarks made by
Derek Wyatt in the committee, in that there needs to be a national
strategy for swimming and swimming provision. We need a strategy
from government, not just to ensure the success of competitive
and elite swimming, important though this is, for this only represents
a small portion of the use of our swimming pools. We need a strategy
also to ensure the interests of the greater majority of pool users
who swim to achieve a life skill, for health, fun and fitness
in recognition of all the benefits such activities provide for
individuals, communities and society.
I trust you find these views of assistance and
once again thank you for this opportunity.
6 December 2001