‘Call-in’ panel asks Government to properly fund under-16s swimming scheme

A B&NES Council scrutiny panel this week agreed to lobby Government to properly fund a scheme to give free swimming to children under sixteen.

During the meeting Aquaterra leisure, which operates swimming pools on behalf of B&NES Council, revealed that the real cost of implementing the scheme would be at least three times the £78,000 on offer from the Government.

The panel concluded that it would write to Government asking it to properly fund the scheme. The panel also agreed that it would write to local MPs Dan Norris and Don Foster asking them to join with them in lobbying Government over the issue.

Following the meeting, Chairman of the call-in panel Cllr Martin Veal (Con, Bathavon North), said:

“It would be great if every child was able to go swimming for free but the Government can’t keep asking local Councils to foot the bill for these initiatives. The panel heard many different views on the subject, but ultimately we had to recognise that if we asked the Council to plug the gap in Government funding it would mean a cut in services elsewhere. That is why we agreed to write to central Government asking them to look again at the money they have offered and properly fund the scheme, and we are going to invite the local MPs in B&NES to do the same.”

Cllr Terry Gazzard (Con, Abbey), who is the Cabinet Member in charge of Leisure, commented:

“The more pressure that can be put on Government to properly fund initiatives the better, so I thank the panel for this support. The under-16s free swimming scheme has laudable aims, but in these tight economic times the Government should be looking to help local Councils rather than put increasing pressure on them. I would like to reassure parents that this does not affect free swimming lessons in school and we will continue to offer free ‘top-up’ swimming lessons to those children who need it.”