Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
THE SPORT OF SWIMMING
The Local Government Association (LGA) has a
membership of all local authorities, county, metropolitan, unitary
and district, in England and Wales. As such the LGA provides the
national voice for local communities in England and Wales; its
members represent over 50 million people, employ two million staff
and spend over £65 billion on local services.
The LGA welcomes the opportunity to contribute
this memorandum to this public evidence session on the sport of
Local authorities provide around 1,400 swimming
pools across England for their local communities, ranging from
the traditional historic "baths" (many of which are
listed buildings), to leisure and family pools, to regional and
international short course and 50 metre competition pool facilities.
An estimated 80 million visits are made to these facilities each
year and estimated expenditure by local authorities to facilities
that include swimming provision runs to around £375 million
Local authorities have historically provided
these facilities to contribute to the health and well-being of
their communities. Swimming, like many sports, can make a clear
contribution to people's health and fitness. This has been evidenced
on many occasions, in reports and journals. However, these facilities
and services, and the clubs and societies attached to them, provide
much more in terms of their influence on the social fabric of
local community groups, and contribute to lifelong learning, local
crime reduction and social inclusion. The LGA along with other
partner organisations have recently published Realising the
Potential of Cultural Services which provides examples of
this contribution, with a specific report for sport available
on our website. (http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/culture/potential.htm)
Public swimming facilities of course support
a whole range of aquatic sports and activities. Through these
local authorities, support school swimming and the national curriculum
requirements for Key Stage 2 swimming, support professional training
and development in lifesaving skills and qualifications and in
many areas support (often in partnership) swimming coaches, clubs,
Active sports partnerships for swimming and local and regional
swimming development officers.
There are two main issues that the Association
would like to address in this submission. These issues will incorporate
each of the three topics highlighted in the Committee's note for
Recent reports on the perilous condition of
Scottish pools should not be viewed in isolation. For some time
local councils across England and Wales have faced difficulties
in delivering essential capital and revenue financing for existing
swimming pool facilities. The Ticking Time Bomb (published
by Sport Scotland) raises the prospect of a high number of pool
closures over the next 20 years unless there is significant reinvestment
in upgrading building fabric and plant and improving their accessibility.
This scenario is mirrored across the UK.
In relation to the Committee's interest in historic
pools it is significant that in terms of structure pre-1945 facilities
are quite robust. The major problems with these buildings lay
in their high refurbishment costs, and low potential for development.
In many cases, although located in the heart of local communities,
they 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 council's financial pressures in this
Based on survey work conducted for Sport England
in 1994 there is an estimated £10 billion investment requirement
to modernise public swimming facilities and sports halls in England.
Finer refinement of the figures have led to estimates of an investment
requirement of £120 million per annum over the next 15 years
needed to modernise swimming pools, bringing them up to current
health and safety standards.
Sports lottery funding to local authority capital
projects currently sits at around £25 million per annum,
and is prioritised in projects in areas of social deprivation
(not sporting deprivation). As the Committee is aware, the size
of the sports lottery fund is diminishing and for local councils
outside of priority areas this funding is becoming a fund of last
We are seeing the roll out of capital programmes
for sport in schools through Space for Sport and Arts programme
(£130 million in primary schools) and NOF's Physical Education
and School Sport stream (£580 million). These programmes
delegated to LEA's to co-ordinate, are unlikely to feature many
swimming pool projects (a single pool project may take up a high
percentage of the LEA area allocation).
If there is a need for further evidence of demand
from local councils to develop leisure and pool facilities then
this is illustrated by the demand for projects submitted to DCMS
for their £90 million PFI allocation (£30 million over
2001-02 to 2003-04). Project bids to the value of around £130
million were received against the first year allocation of £30
However PFI is not a route all local councils
can take, and not one suitable to many of the smaller swimming
pool replacement or refurbishment projects that are becoming pressing
issues for local communities.
Within the current Comprehensive Spending Review
we firmly believe that this allocation to DCMS for leisure projects
should be increased. In addition, there must be a recognition
of the modernising requirement for these facilities and this should
figure in the CSR reassessment for sport and swimming this winter
and feature as a priority within government's strategy for community
Within the Local Government White Paper we expect
to see more freedom and flexibility for councils with regards
to capital spending from the new prudential capital system, giving
councils the ability to borrow (within limits but not depending
on credit approvals). This should provide councils with more flexibility
around the margins of their spending plans but with revenue funding
under pressure we would not expect an immediate impact on capital
programmes. In addition, swimming pools will find themselves placed
within a long list of capital programme priorities outlined within
local authorities Asset Management Plans. What local authorities
need most is the allocation of mainstream capital resources to
accompany the asset management plan appraisals.
To illustrate the problem facing local councils
in meeting local swimming needs, I list some case examples:
Leeds City Council
A full condition survey of the sport and swimming
centres revealed the cost of essential health and safety works
amounts to £10.05 million, while £3.2 million is currently
Maintenance budgets for the facilities are also
expected to grow to £1.7 million per annum. Shortfalls in
maintenance will result in facilities falling into disrepair and
reduced attendances and income.
The council is currently assessing the options
available through forming Trusts or public private partnerships.
Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council
The council has three 1930's swimming facilities.
These facilities are too costly to refurbish and in danger of
closure. Unsuccessful in lottery bidding, the council is seeking
to access regeneration funding in one case. The council's 1970's
pool (a 25 metre and learner pool facility) is also in need of
Stafford Borough Council
£2.2 million is estimated for renovation
of the council's 1970's pools. As the council's revenue budget
is £12 million scope for this investment is limited. Similarly
lottery funding opportunities will be limited, the pools are not
within the 20 per cent of most deprived areas. Once again public
private partnership options are being examined.
These examples raise further issues for the
future maintenance, refurbishment and replacement of public swimming
Firstly, the time bomb is ticking for these
facilities and an urgent appraisal of solutions is needed. The
Association considers that this must be a priority for DCMS's
Community Sports Alliance when it is formed.
Secondly, to what extent can the private sector,
voluntary sector and ring fenced or area targeted funding schemes
be expected to meet this £10 billion problem?
Thirdly, the refurbishment issues for these
facilities are absorbing management time and resources in local
councils. Managers engaged in funding bids and applications are
not delivering services for local communities, managing facilities
and developing swimming programmes.
A glimpse through the available Best Available
inspection reports of leisure services made by the Audit commission
provides fairly consistent messages regarding sports and swimming
Local councils need to consider how
they address the refurbishment backlog of facilities.
Only where no other provision or
partnership opportunities exist should councils be intervening.
The latter point is an area where local councils,
up until now being key providers and partners of services for
competitive and elite standard swimming, are now reviewing their
role. It is not uncommon for local councils to support swimming
clubs, fund coaches, lifesaving trainers, and development officers.
Facilities are provided for competition, although local councils'
approaches to both charging, and availability will vary according
to the financial position of the services, and political support
for staging events.
Best value reviews across these services will
vary in content locally, but will impact on the governing body,
clubs and school users. Inevitably local councils will review
use of the facilities to strike a balance between casual swimming,
programmed activities and swimming development.
In many smaller authorities swimming development
concentrates on foundation and participation levels of the continuum.
Clubs, albeit with council support, provide performance and excellence.
However, as financial support becomes more difficult from local
councils, clubs are beginning to provide their own foundation
and participation sessions to raise revenue. The duplication of
service for the same customer can result. In larger authorities
where swimming development schemes are much larger, clubs may
not have the capacity to deliver these services effectively. The
danger is that swimming development services suffer in quality
locally as decisions on "who delivers what" are debated.
Increasingly the more directed development work
has been under financial pressure (and again who else could deliver
these services?). For example, development work with Asian women
in swimming and health promotional exercise referrals to the service.
Often these services require additional staffing and associated
Schools will appear as key stakeholders within
the majority of best value reviews of these swimming services.
A varied picture has appeared across local councils with regard
to school swimming provision. Some LEA's or county councils still
package and procure the swimming service for schools successfully.
In these cases more flexibility has been needed on the part of
local council pools to accommodate larger school groups or changing
timetables to accommodate literacy and numeracy requirements in
the school curriculum.
Where responsibility and budgets have been devolved
directly to the schools problems have occurred, not least in the
area of transport costs being met by schools. This has meant less
visits, larger groups, and the requirement or consideration of
lifesaving qualifications for teachers for some schools.
Where these pressures exist, clearly some schools
and pupils do not participate regularly in swimming offering perhaps
only three-week intensive courses in years five and six.
On a positive note, some local authorities are
now pursuing policies of free or heavily subsidised swimming for
children achieving the Key Stage 2 swimming requirement. Indeed
Glasgow City Council are experimenting with a free swimming policy
for all under 16 year olds, which to date has been greeted with
real enthusiasm from the public in terms of attendance. Evaluation
of the longer term benefit to the health and well being of the
community will be vital evidence in convincing government of supporting
local council initiatives of this type, and at local level influencing
best value reviews and swimming provision policy.
27 November 2001