Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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:


  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.


  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 use—better 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

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