Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
The Free Swimming initiative was introduced as a pilot in 2003 to provide free access to swimming for over 60s and was expanded to provide free access for under 16s during school holidays. The initiative became a national programme in 2007 and has since been supported on an annual basis with Welsh Government funding. The scheme is managed by Sport Wales and delivered by local authority partners.
Members will wish to be aware that a review of the Free Swimming Initiative was undertaken in 2014 - 2015 by a working group which included Sport Wales and local authority representatives. This review considered whether the Free Swimming Initiative could be made more effective and more closely aligned with Welsh Government policies on health and physical activity. Evidence shows that while take up of the over 60s taking part in Free Swimming showed steady growth, the number of free swims for children had declined, although paid swims for children had increased over the same period. The review highlighted a number of issues and recommended a number of changes. For example it found that at least 25% of Welsh children could not swim 25 metres by the age of 11. The review recommended that the Free Swimming initiative should ‘focus more on actually teaching children to swim rather than offering free time in a pool during school holidays’.
Having considered the review recommendations I asked the working group to make changes to the Free Swimming funding formula that determines allocations to better reflect the degree of socio-economic deprivation in each local authority area. We know that those from a deprived background are less likely to be able to swim and an inability to swim reduces a child’s life chances and contributes to health inequality. Consequently, I have written to each local authority across Wales to inform them that Sport Wales will apply the Welsh Local Government Revenue Settlement funding formula for children and young persons personal social services to the funding for Free Swimming in 2015-2106. This approach will also better support the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty agenda.
These are difficult times and we have to consider more carefully how to ensure our investment achieves value for money and our desired outcomes. Applying the Welsh Local Government Revenue Settlement funding formula will deliver a greater degree of social justice, as well as demonstrate our determination to reduce poverty and the effects of deprivation. Some local authorities will of course see an increase in their Free Swimming allocation, whereas a number of others will see a reduction, but no local authority has completely lost funding for Free Swimming as a consequence of this new funding policy.
Welsh Government will continue to provide significant funding to support the Free Swimming initiative. Our new focus is for “every child to be a swimmer” irrespective of their social circumstances or wealth.