Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Second Report



22. The current National Curriculum requirements for swimming at Key Stage 2 (age 11) include:

Ofsted inspectors are asked also to evaluate in relation to swimming:

    (d)  The quality and effectiveness of the teaching or instruction.
    (e)  The steps taken by schools to give support to poor or non-swimmers.
    (f)  The quality of planning, time allocation and organisational arrangements.

23. The Ofsted Report on Swimming in Key Stage 2 found that over four out of five pupils could swim 25 metres, and that the teaching of swimming was good or better in four out of five lessons.[30] These adequate overall figures conceal the fact that, in inner city areas and those areas with a high level of deprivation based upon the free school meals indicator, only two thirds of pupils could swim 25 metres.[31] As children from well-off families can afford to swim out of school, school swimming is not delivering sufficiently to those in need.[32] Additional concerns of the report were that in some schools water safety and survival were not covered "sufficiently well", half of schools had no specific provision for poor or reluctant swimmers, and over half of schools had reduced the time allocated to swimming in recent years. ISRM stated in their memorandum that Key Stage Two attainment targets should always be regarded and referred to as a starting point and not as proof of swimming competence. "We suspect that children do not learn to swim as well under the Key Stage Two requirement as they did in previous years. The result is that they do not feel confident enough later on outside school to pursue swimming as a leisure activity or sport."[33]

24. Duncan Goodhew told us that Learn to Swim schemes often had a "tick box" attitude, with contractors having no financial incentive to achieve more than the bare minimum of 25 metres swum by each child. He suggested that the definition of "being able to swim" needed reconsideration.[34] We agree and consider that teaching children to swim, but only just, may in fact create a hazardous false confidence.

25. In order to improve the level and quality of current participation by school children in swimming, schools must be able to have affordable access to facilities. Sport England stated that it is the cost associated with hiring pools, lifeguards, safe transportation of pupils, and health and safety and insurance requirements that has led schools to opt out of providing swimming, and urged the Government to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to achieve Key Stage 2 swimming targets.[35] As the memorandum from the ISRM points out, strategies for the provision of school swimming in local authority pools need to be formed between the local authorities and local education authorities so that prohibitive costs are not passed on to schools.[36]

26. The Government's memorandum stated that the Space for Sport and Arts Programme and the New Opportunities Fund's PE and Sports Programme will provide over £581 million for the improvement of school sports facilities in England, with decisions on projects being led by the local education authority.[37] The Local Government Association told the Committee that neither of these programmes is likely to feature many swimming pool projects as these would require a disproportionately large amount of the funding available.[38] The Government's response to the Ofsted report has been to set up the Swimming Advisory Group which was due to report in December 2001, focussing on facilities, water safety and an overall swimming strategy. The Committee awaits its report with interest.

27. As Sharron Davies told the Committee, "it is terribly important that all children learn to swim in schools; therefore they can then be encouraged to go to the clubs ... to bring them through to be elite athletes or just maintain them as regular competing youngsters who want to be with other athletes".[39] The pressures on schools in urban areas to provide funding for transport to suitable facilities has led to a failure of some schools to meet National Curriculum requirements on swimming and water safety.

28. Evidence from the historic pools campaigns confirms that closures of community-based pools have led to swimming being taken off the curriculum altogether in some cases. With the current rate of drowning increasing among the under-14s, water safety and the ability to swim should be considered more important than ever. We believe that it should be a key point of Government policy on sport and education that every child should have the opportunity, and access to facilities, to learn to swim.

In the community

29. Local authorities currently provide approximately 1,400 swimming pools for local communities, including leisure pools, historic baths, regional and international short course pools and 50 metre competition pools.[40] Competing for water space are swimming clubs, schools, elite swimmers and those swimming for pleasure or exercise.

30. The current rate of growth in the private sector leisure industry suggests it could continue to draw away swimmers from public sector pools and decrease revenue for local authorities. Local authorities are under a requirement to maximise their return from leisure services, whilst still meeting a community need. This may lead to children and swimming clubs being marginalised as they represent lower value customers.[41] Clubs have already expressed to the Committee their concern over higher and higher fees being charged to them by local authorities. Evidence to the Committee has shown that, nationally, the price of pool entry for junior swimmers has suffered an increase on average by approximately 38 per cent, between 1998 and 2001.[42]


31. Most of the existing community pools were built in the leisure industry construction boom of the 1960's to 1980's, partly as a result of positive Local Authority Funding Agreements.[43] Consequently, 60 per cent of the existing facilities are now facing the need for refurbishment or replacement, and, according to Sport England estimates, the repair bill will be of the order of £2 billion (not including school pools).[44]

32. Despite Lottery grants of £222 million for the development and refurbishment of swimming projects (making swimming the sport that has received most Sport England Lottery funds to date), Sport England told the Committee that they felt the Lottery resources were not enough to address the needs of pools in this country. Sport England had recently put in a bid to the Capital Modernisation Fund for a specific programme to modernise swimming pools, but this bid was rejected by H M Treasury shortly before Sport England gave evidence to the Committee.[45] Sport England said that it did consider that there was sufficient funding for the development of strategies necessary to identify the need for community facilities.[46]

33. The Local Government Association wrote that, as the ever-decreasing Sports Lottery funding to local authority projects gives priority to areas of social deprivation, for those councils outside of priority areas Lottery money is "becoming a fund of last resort."[47] The LGA saw a need for the DCMS PFI allocation to be increased within the current Spending Review, to provide councils with funds for the development of leisure facilities. The LGA also expected that, within local government legislation, there should be more flexibility and freedom for councils with regards to capital spending from the new prudential capital system, allowing councils to borrow the funds necessary to improve facilities.[48]

34. Currently only around 15 per cent of local authority pools, as part of the boroughs' total leisure services, are being run by private contractors, and generally these public-private partnerships are found in the South and South East Regions. As the real problem is the cost of capital and revenue funding, local authorities are becoming more interested in the concept of offering longer contracts of 10-15 years in return for private contractors investing in the capital facilities.[49]

35. The ASA's facility strategy should help local authorities fulfil the Best Value requirements by enabling authorities to assess their current stock and the needs of the community when making decisions on investing funds. Through Lottery funding, the ASA now has a team of ten regional development officers whose job is to work with local authorities to develop swimming strategies. The ASA cannot make decisions about local community needs; that is for the local authority to consider when deciding what its facility requirements are.[50] Only 30 per cent of local authorities in England have produced sport and recreation strategies to date.[51] Noel Winter, facilities officer for the ASA, told the Committee: "The first question I ask the local authority is who they want to use the facility. Quite often they do not have an idea".[52]

36. The ASA has assessed the facilities available in England and considers that there is a need for 50 metre competition facilities and training facilities and that every county and large conurbation needs an eight-lane 25 metre pool.[53] Together, ISRM and ASA agree that any new pools that are built, including 50 metre competition pools, must have flexible designs to enable maximum use by the whole community. They advocate the use of moveable floors, booms and bulkheads to enable pools to be altered in size and shape as different users swim throughout the day. Together with efficient programming by their management, modernised pools will have the chance to ensure that the needs of the community are met.[54] Currently, the LGA believes that funding issues are absorbing the time and resources of managers, who could otherwise be developing swimming programmes.

37. Unless existing community pools are refurbished and the facilities improved, more affluent swimmers will be drawn away to private leisure pools and take with them valuable revenue. More local authorities need to develop strategies to enable them to make efficient assessments of the needs of their facilities, and should work with the regional directors of ASA who are funded for this purpose. Local authority swimming pool managers should concentrate on drawing up successful programming of facilities to enable the whole community to swim, rather than being forced to give priority to funding issues. Sport England should be provided with more funding to enable local authorities to fulfil their strategies for the modernisation of their neglected pools.


38. English Heritage and the POOL campaign have given copious evidence to the Committee on the case for maintaining historic pools, and also the challenges these pools face. There are currently 79 pools in England listed as of special architectural or historic interest. Of these, seven are listed at grade II* and the remaining 72 are listed at grade II.[55]

39. Traditionally pools were built in deprived areas with few other nearby amenities, and were originally provided to meet the concerns of public health and hygiene.[56] Gill Wright of the Manchester Victoria Baths Trust saw the redevelopment of historic pools as a way of leading the regeneration of deprived areas.[57]

40. Most historic pools are an important form of Edwardian architecture and represent social history which ought to be preserved. English Heritage, the Government's lead body for the historic environment in England, told the Committee that historic pools are a "prime example of the ordinary working heritage that most people understand and value ... historic swimming baths have an important part to play in the creation of distinctive, civilised and 'liveable' cities".[58] Gill Wright argued in evidence to the Committee that "it is not just about the architecture, it is about the social history which is in that building".[59] We believe that the architectural importance to the nation cannot be ignored. In the months before its closure, the Marshall Street Baths were voted one of the 10 most beautiful public pools in the country; they are now on the Buildings at Risk register.[60]

41. Pools can be seen as a resource at the heart of deprived communities to encourage social inclusion, and health, and promote beneficial alternatives to drugs, alcohol and crime.

42. Pools are an amenity which are used by young, old, disabled and ethnic minorities alike who would be discouraged from swimming by travelling further afield to modern facilities. The Friends of Marshall Street Baths, Soho provided evidence of three schools being adversely affected by its closure, with some years having their swimming sessions stopped as the distance to an alternative pool is too far for younger children, and other years having their previous year-round swimming reduced to two terms. When the Haggerston Pool was closed, eight schools took swimming off their curriculum, as alternative pools, often too crowded, were considered too far to walk to, and transport too expensive. One of these schools has resumed sessions at 50 per cent of its previous regularity, whilst two schools are about to reintroduce swimming, but at a significant cost in terms of providing transport. At the Govanhill Pool in Glasgow, only 50 per cent of the children who belonged to the swimming club continue to take part in its activities. Manchester Victoria Baths has seen the discontinuation of the schools swimming association, and the reduction of school galas.[61] The local swimming club has a waiting list of 50 per cent of the capacity of the club. Gill Wright reiterated in her evidence to the committee, that transport is a major issue for the people in the Ardwick ward of Manchester who used to swim at the Victoria Baths. People are not visiting the new Commonwealth pool as it is either too expensive or too difficult to reach.[62]

43. Sport England stated to the Committee in their memorandum that "ethnic minority groups continue to be under-represented in their use of swimming pools. Increasing levels of participation among these groups is a key aim of swimming pools".[63] Similarly, David Sparkes of the Amateur Swimming Association told the Committee that they had been unable to connect ethnic minorities with the elite end of swimming;[64] and Mr Kelvin Juba of the ASA told the Committee: "probably less than two per cent of people who are swimming are from ethnic minority groups around the country ... this is a real problem that swimming and swimming pool operators are going to have to address in the future".[65] Savio D'Souza of the Govanhill Pool, Glasgow suggested that, whilst some historic pools are able to provide suitable facilities for ethnic minorities, more modern glass-fronted pools were discouraging participation, particularly for Muslim women.[66]

44. Campaigns in Manchester, Glasgow and London have produced a huge amount of support from all sections of the community for the preservation of the local pools. Most campaigns appear to have been set up in the absence of constructive dialogue between local authorities and the community. English Heritage aim to help re-establish and encourage partnerships to work towards a sustainable future for historic pools.

45. The main challenge faced by historic pools is the huge cost of maintenance, repairs and renovation. Evidence submitted by Save Britain's Heritage detailed the structural problems that historic pools face. Modern users expect a comfortable internal environment, with higher water and air temperatures than were envisaged in the original construction. As a result, energy loss raises the cost of heating, and condensation problems arise which affect the health of the structure.[67] With many pools nearly one hundred years old and in need of repair, the cost is too great for local authorities who have limited budgets, and who are now also facing the need to repair more modern pools built in the 70s and 80s which have greater popular appeal. Evidence given to the Committee showed that significant funding is needed to bring historic pools back into use. Haggerston Baths, Hackney has estimated that £3.5 million is needed, Marshall Street Baths in Soho need £7.1 million, and Victoria Baths in Manchester need £10.93 million.[68] All three pools have developed business plans to transform the pools into 'healthy living centres'.[69]

46. English Heritage told the Committee that it only has a limited allocation of grant funding from central government to assist listed buildings. In the last financial year, English Heritage had only £3.6 million, from grants in aid from central government, to allocate to 35,000 listed buildings in London, and for the rest of England £8.6 million was available for over 500,000 listed buildings.[70] Paul Velluet of English Heritage described this as "a very, very thin spread".[71] Rather than a funding provider, English Heritage sees its role as co-operating with local authorities and communities in encouraging the effective use of pools, working towards grant assistance to bring pools back into use, and channelling their limited grants into projects to help lever in other support from local authorities and the private sector.[72]

47. English Heritage believes that the way for historic pools to survive is through partnership agreements between local authorities and private concerns, and cites Richmond Upon Thames, Saltdean Lido near Brighton and the Jubilee Pool in Penzance as successful examples.[73] English Heritage is also currently undertaking a pilot study in the North West region of the interconnection between sporting facilities and heritage buildings, the results of which may be useful for the rest of the country.[74]

48. Despite the appeal of public-private partnerships as a solution to the problem of funding historic pools, the POOL campaign gave evidence to the Committee that there are difficulties in obtaining private sector support for non-leisure pools in deprived areas, as these are not seen as lucrative for business.[75] Even when such interest is secured for a historic pool, problems occur. Barbara Corr, representing the Friends of Marshall Street Baths, Soho, told the Committee that a private sector operator had expressed interest in investing in the pool and had offered to invest £5 million if the local authority agreed to invest £2 million. As the local authority had declined this offer, the deal had fallen through and private sector funding had been withdrawn.[76] Gill Wright, representing Manchester Victoria Baths Trust, told the Committee that, once sources of capital funding had been identified, the difficulty came in balancing the revenue costs with the project expenditure. The local authority were not willing to provide revenue support as they had in the past, and this proved a barrier to private investment.[77] The Committee also received evidence from Camberwell Leisure Centre outlining its partnership approach to attracting funding.[78]

49. An added burden on historic pools is VAT on repairs to listed buildings. Although zero rating applies to alteration works, VAT on repairs and maintenance is standard rated. Victoria Baths in Manchester has estimated that the necessary repair costs of £9.1 million will attract a VAT bill of £1.83million. Determination of whether repairs should be treated in the same way as alteration works rests with the European Commission. The Commission has said that it will look carefully at the issue of VAT treatment of heritage buildings when the VAT directive is reviewed in 2003.[79] There is however likely to be a long shopping list of VAT reforms for the Commission to consider. It may be some time before listed building obtain the relief, which listed churches recently received, from VAT on repairs.

50. There are also concerns that historic facilities are old-fashioned and some require significant alteration to meet disability and health and safety requirements. The Local Government Association expressed a concern that historic pools "remain inaccessible in design to the whole community. Indeed the final stages of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 are most likely to add to local councils' financial pressures in this area."[80] Bringing facilities into line with modern standards is a challenge for both historic pools and pools built more recently in the 1970s and 1980s. The evidence from the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management commented on the robust and superior building standards of historic buildings, and saw no reason why pools should not be able to meet satisfactory pool water and hygiene standards.[81] Evidence has been submitted by the historic pools that they were used by swimmers with disabilities on account of having steps, rather than ladders, into the water. These swimmers now face difficulties in finding alternative suitable facilities.[82]

51. Historic pools represent a valuable part of the UK's heritage. The priority afforded to them needs to be assessed sensitively and carefully within the context of total provision across the relevant community (including transport issues, potential usage, importance in terms of social history and architectural quality). We cannot ignore the realities of budgetary constraints, but imaginative and creative funding solutions should be sought in consultation with the local community. Currently, English Heritage cannot afford to help significantly with the funding of the refurbishment of historic pools. The Committee believes there is a case for more resources from the Heritage Lottery Fund being made available to historic pools for this purpose. Historic pools should also be looked at from the point of view of social regeneration or preventing social degeneration. The Government should reconsider how such facilities can be developed to support deprived areas. It should also take steps to seek to relieve them of the burden of VAT on repair and renovation.

Elite and club sporting provision

52. The Committee has received many memoranda from swimming clubs and associations stating that the provision of facilities for training and hosting competitions are inadequate. There are two main issues, the lack of water space for elite training in local authority pools, and the lack of 50 metre pools for long course training and for international standard competitions. As Noel Winter of the ASA explained, elite swimmers need to train twice a day; and whilst they can use 25 metre pools as supplementary training, they also need to train once a day in a 50 metre pool if they are to compete internationally in long course competitions.[83] This is an issue which has support from Bill Sweetenham, Britain's new National Performance Director for swimming.[84] The current minimum for an international standard competition swimming facility is a 50 metre pool with 10 lanes, with adequate accommodation for spectators and competitors and car parking.[85] Sheffield currently has the only pool capable of holding an international competition, but even this does not meet full international standards as it does not have a 50 metre warm up and swim down pool.[86] By the end of 2002 England will have 19 50 metre pools (in various state of repair), about the same number of pools in Berlin or Paris alone.[87]

53. The lack of 50 metre pools in England means that there is not one pool where the ASA can take the national team to a training camp over a prolonged period of time.[88] Great Britain won seven medals (including two golds) at this year's world championships in Fukuoka, but returned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics with no swimming medals at all. Whilst there has been increased Lottery funding under the World Class Programme for elite swimming over recent years, it was, as we have pointed out, subsequently reduced as a result of the Sydney failure to produce medals, and swimming is now classed as a priority two sport.[89] Sport England ought surely to take into account the success of British Swimmers at the European Championships in December 2001, both in winning medals and in breaking Commonwealth and British records.[90] Whilst the funding remains in place to produce elite swimming programmes, the elite facilities also need to be provided if swimmers are to compete on an equal basis with other countries. As the ISRM wrote to the Committee: "children need role models, heroes that can inspire them to do great things with their own lives". Enabling elite swimmers to win gold medals encourages the medal winners of the future to swim.[91]

54. Whilst the problems of elite swimming may be redressed by Sport England's commitment in principle to fund a limited number of 50 metre pools, it remains important for the lower end of competition swimming to be supported in order to provide elite champions of the future. Duncan Goodhew told us: "Winning gold medals is about probability. You have to get as many people taking part as possible".[92] Whilst the ASA stated that most general requirements can be met by the provision of 25 metre pools, it is the access to such facilities that is proving problematical for clubs.[93] Many children are forced to train early in the morning, or late at night when they should be in bed.[94] Where there is a lack of 25 metre pools in an area, parents are forced to transport children to suitable pools for training at a significant cost which cannot always be met by less well-off families.

55. Swimming clubs have submitted evidence of the increasing fees being charged by local authorities, and of water space being prioritised for the more lucrative customers who swim for exercise. Anita Lonsbrough told the Committee of an example where existing 25 metre facilities are being replaced by a leisure pool.[95] Whilst leisure pools are useful in introducing children to swimming, and providing an interest in the sport, they are not suitable for competitive training.

56. Provision is different in the USA, where university pools are linked to sports colleges and communities, and this model is being adopted by the Australian Institute of Sport. In this country, High Performance Centres are being developed for sport as part of the English Institute of Sport, and also Specialist Sports Colleges are being developed under the Government's plan for Sport.[96] One such High Performance Centre will be the 50 metre pool being built at Loughborough University.[97] This could be seen as a flagship for community involvement in a sporting centre of excellence. Provided pools are made available for the whole county in which they are situated, the ASA are broadly supportive of this move to involve communities with university facilities.[98] However, in Hatfield there is currently a debate over a proposed new pool. Hertfordshire University and the local club are pressing for an upgrade of existing plans so as to provide a 50 metre pool.[99] The local authority and Sport England are resisting requests to provide the extra £2 million needed to expand the proposed 25 metre pool into a 50 metre facility.[100] It seems clear that if universities are willing to share their elite-standard facilities with the wider community, they will need the funding to create better pools.

57. Whilst existing 25 metre pools need to be modernised, there appears to be a case for investing in 50 metre pools which can be used by a whole county for swimming. With efficient programming and the use of moveable floors and bulkheads, pools can be altered during a day to serve the whole community. New 50 metre pools and refurbishment of existing pools need investment, but whilst the structure of the sport remains based on swimming clubs and associations feeding through future medalists they need to have water space and the time to train. We cannot be surprised when swimming prowess becomes scarce and stars like Sharron Davies, Duncan Goodhew and Anita Lonsbrough emerge despite the system rather than because of it. Anita Lonsbrough told the Committee "Sport is not as we knew it ... It is now a business; and we have not invested enough in our business."[101]

30   Ofsted Report, Swimming in Key Stage 2, November 2000 Back

31   Ev 44 Back

32   Q 84 Back

33   Ev 52 Back

34   Q 87 Back

35   Ev 48 Back

36   Ev 52 Back

37   Ev 70 Back

38   Ev 72 Back

39   Q 80 Back

40   Ev 72 Back

41   Q 74 Back

42   Figure provided by the Amateur Swimming Association, Q 70 Back

43   Ev 47 Back

44   Ev 47, 48 Back

45   Q 47 Back

46   Q 57 Back

47   Ev 72 Back

48   Ibid Back

49   Figures provided by the LGA Back

50   Q 65 Back

51   Q 57 Back

52   Q 66 Back

53   Q 65 Back

54   Q 48 Back

55   Ev 2 Back

56   Ev 50 Back

57   Q 30 Back

58   Ev 1 Back

59   Q 13 Back

60   Ev 33 Back

61   Ev 118 Back

62   Q 12 Back

63   Ev 47 Back

64   Q 41 Back

65   Q 47 Back

66   QQ 24, 25 Back

67   Not printed Back

68   Ev 9, Q 7 Back

69   The Healthy Living Centre initiative was set up in January 1999 by the New Opportunities Fund, with the aim of opening centres across the UK which will promote good health in its broadest sense, helping people of all ages improve their wellbeing and get the most out of life.  Back

70   English Heritage are limited, outside London, to help only Grade I and II* listed buildings, and there are few listed swimming pools at such a high grading. In Greater London, English Heritage inherited the powers of the GLC and so are able to have greater involvement with Grade II listed buildings. See Q 5 Back

71   Q 8 Back

72   QQ 2, 8 Back

73   Ev 2 Back

74   Q 31 Back

75   Ev 118 Back

76   Q 7 Back

77   Ev 118 Back

78   Ev 77 Back

79   HC Deb, vol. 367, 1 May 2001, col. 213WH Back

80   Ev 72 Back

81   Ev 51 Back

82   Ev 9, 15, QQ 12, 13, 29 Back

83   Q 48 Back

84   Ev 74 Back

85   Ev 79 Back

86   Ev 45 Back

87   Ibid Back

88   Q 46 Back

89   QQ 42, 53, 67 Back

90   Information provided by the Amateur Swimming Association Back

91   Ev 54 Back

92   Q 80 Back

93   Ev 45 Back

94   Q 80 Back

95   Ev 62 Back

96   Ev 50, A Sporting Future for All: The Government's plan for sport, March 2001, p 13 Back

97   QQ 46, 48, 49, 50, 89, 91 Back

98   QQ 48, 49, 50 Back

99   Hatfield University is not included in the Amateur Swimming Association's National Facilities Strategy. Back

100   Ev 128 Back

101   Q 98 Back

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