16 Sep 2010 : Column 11P

16 Sep 2010 : Column 11P


Thursday 16 September 2010


Culture, Media and Sport

Free Swimming (Wakefield)

The Petition of Mrs Priscilla Whisker and residents of Wakefield constituency, and others,

Declares that HM Government's decision to cut the previous Labour Government's free swimming scheme from 1 August 2010 will make it more difficult for under 16 and over 60 year olds to access swimming facilities in Wakefield; further declares that the scheme was part of the 2012 Olympics legacy to get more people involved in healthy activities; further declares that there are high levels of child obesity in Wakefield; and further declares that the cuts will disproportionately affect the health of poor people in Wakefield.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Government to recognise the value of encouraging young people to take regular exercise and to learn to swim; to recognise the important health benefits of swimming to children and people over 60; to reconsider the cuts to the Swim 4 Free local authority grant support; and to reinstate the Swim 4 Free grant support to local authorities from 1 August 2010.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. -[Presented by Mary Creagh , Official Report, Monday 26 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 835.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport:

The Government understand the difficult circumstances some people now face in being able to access and afford regular swimming at their local pools. However, the
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unprecedented levels of debt facing the country have regrettably meant that the Government have had to take the difficult decision to end the Free Swimming Programme. The Government are aware of the popularity of the Free Swimming Programme and understand the disappointment this has caused. However, savings need to be made in all areas to ensure the Government can start to tackle the budget deficit the country is facing. Continuing to fund this programme did not represent good value for money.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) was commissioned in April 2009 to undertake an independent evaluation of the Free Swimming Programme in England. PwC were tasked with measuring the extent to which the Free Swimming Programme has increased the number of swims and the number of swimmers. Their report, which is available on the DCMS website, estimates that a high percentage of both adults (83%) and children (72%) would go swimming even if they had to pay.

The Government are aware of the health benefits which regular swimming brings. The evaluation did seek to compare the costs of the Programme with the economic benefits in terms of potential cost savings to the NHS. The results of this analysis suggest that the costs of the programme outweigh the benefits.

It is regrettable that the Government have had to take the decision to cease funding the Free Swimming Programme. However, this should not discourage individual local authorities from continuing to offer free or discounted swimming in their areas via membership schemes. It is for local authorities to decide whether or not they can continue to do so based on their own assessments of costs and affordability.

The Government are committed to the delivery of a meaningful London 2012 Olympics sporting legacy. Mass participation is one of the key strands of this legacy. Across Government, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be used to encourage people to be more active. To deliver this, Sport England will focus on improving facility provision and developing sport at a community level. The Government have also set out plans to reform the National Lottery which should see an extra £50 million a year available to sport by 2012.

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