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Free Swimming

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

Following the announcement the Secretary of State for Health and I made on 6 June 2008, I am today setting out further details of the Government’s free swimming scheme in partnership with local government. This cross-Government announcement set out a £140 million package comprising contributions from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This statement, and the arrangements it sets out, have been developed across Government with the help of the Amateur Swimming Association, the Local Government Association, Sport England and others.

The Government are keen to encourage as many local authorities as possible to participate in making swimming free for over 60s and under 16s in their local communities, but also to stimulate ambitious authorities to maximise and sustain uptake through other initiatives such as free lessons for adults who cannot swim, the introduction of swimming co-ordinators and to provide incentives for the most ambitious to move further towards a universal free swimming offer.

We hope this statement will give local authorities the information they need to start planning for their budget setting cycle and to decide the extent to which they wish to exploit the opportunities offered by the scheme to improve the health and well-being of their communities and support delivery of local priorities as set out in their respective local area agreements.

Pot 1: Free swimming for the over 60s

Swimming is the most popular participation activity for the over 60s, with 7 per cent. taking part in swimming at least once a month. Swimming has the same health benefits as other forms of physical activity. Additionally, regular swimming builds endurance, muscle strength and cardio-vascular fitness and, as a low impact activity, is ideal for the elderly and those recovering from injury. The Government are keen to encourage as many local authorities as possible to participate in making swimming free for over 60s in their area. To achieve this, central Government is making available £15 million per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The Government will write at the start of next week to the chief executives of all local authorities in England which are responsible for leisure services to ask them to confirm, by no later than 15 September 2008, whether they wish to take up this offer. This letter will set out the resource funding the local authority will be allocated from pot 1 in 2009-10 and 2010-11 if it chooses to participate. This allocation is calculated according to a simple formula based on the size of the local over-60 population. Funding will be distributed through a specific grant, details of which will be set out in the letter to local authorities.

The qualifying criteria for the scheme are simple. Free swimming for the over 60s means that people in that age group who wish to swim at any time throughout the year when they would normally be admitted to the pool for public swimming, and in accordance with local programming, should not be charged.

Authorities who already offer free swimming that would otherwise have qualified for this funding may deploy their allocation to fund initiatives that will further increase and sustain participation for the over 60s and extend such measures to wider groups of the population.

Pot 2: Free swimming for the under 16s

Swimming remains a popular activity for children, with 38 per cent. of 11 to 16-year-olds participating in swimming in and out of school at least once a month. The Government are keen to extend the principle of making swimming free to the under 16s. To support this, central Government are making available £25 million per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

All local authorities who choose to participate in pot 1 are also invited to submit, no later than 15 September 2008, an expression of interest to make swimming free for under 16s. For these authorities, details of their prospective allocation from pot 2 will be provided no later than 30 September 2008. They will then be invited to confirm, by no later than 15 October 2008, whether they wish to take up this offer. Funding will again be distributed through a specific grant.

As for the over 60s, we have made the qualifying criteria for the scheme simple. Free swimming for the under 16s means that people in that age group who wish to swim out of normal school hours throughout the year when they would normally be admitted to the pool for public swimming, and in accordance with local programming, should not be charged.

Again, local authorities who already offer free swimming that would otherwise have qualified for this funding may deploy their allocation to fund initiatives which will further increase and sustain participation for the under 16s and extend such measures to wider groups of the population.

We hope that local authorities will work creatively with local partners, including primary care trusts, to access funds from other sources such as the working neighbourhoods fund, extending activities and the Big Lottery Fund, as well as from the private sector.

Pot 3: Modernising pool provision—capital reward fund

To support local authorities in making swimming free for the over 60s and under 16s, we are also making available £10 million of capital funding in 2008-09 to modernise pool provision. All authorities that sign up to participate in pot 1 and pot 2 will be entitled to a one-off capital grant in 2008-09.

Pot 3 will be allocated amongst all authorities that choose to participate in both pot 1 and pot 2, based on population shares.

Pot 4: Modernising pool provisioncapital challenge fund

Local authorities have welcomed the opportunity to refurbish and modernise pool provision. Central Government are also making available £25 million capital per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11 to modernise pool provision and support more ambitious plans for free swimming.

Sport England will administer the capital challenge fund on behalf of the Government, and will publish a prospectus for bids for funding by 31 July 2008. Local authorities which have committed to pot 1 and pot 2 will be invited to submit costed plans for pot 4 by no later than 15 October 2008.