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


Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association


  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 swimming.

  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 per annum.

  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. (

  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 this inquiry.


  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 area.

  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 resort.

  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 million.

  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 sport.

  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 being invested.

  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 tank repairs.

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 facilities.

  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 services.

    —  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 costs.

  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

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