Almost three months have passed since the coalition government decided to axe free swimming for under-16s and over-60s.
The cancellation was announced by Hugh Robertson, minister for sport and the Olympics, on 17 June as part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s £73m contribution to cutting the fiscal deficit.
At the time the department said free swims had “not delivered value for money” and cutting it would save £5m as part of a total saving of £40m from the Free Swimming Programme funding.
Labour launched the programme in April 2009. When it was axed at the end of July, a total of 160,665 free swims had been taken, 98,684 had been taken by people aged 16 and under, and 61,981 by those aged 60 and over.
The programme’s success in some areas has led to a few local authorities retaining it. In late August, both Warwick district council and Wolverhampton city council said they would continue to fund the scheme until its original planned end date of 31 March 2011.
In areas where the scheme was scrapped, the number of swimmers has fallen sharply. The Halesowen News reported that the number of swims at its local leisure centre fell 36% from 10,300 in August 2009 to 6,521 a year later. And according to the Derby Times, the number of under-18s and over-60s swimming at pools in South Derbyshire went from 10,090 in the scheme’s first month to just 3,855 the month after it ended.
Were free swims cut in the area where you live? If you are in the age ranges affected has their axing reduced how much you swim? Perhaps you have welcomed the cuts due to overcrowding in pools or because you viewed the scheme as an expensive luxury. Whatever your views, let us know.