Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 10:16 UK

Councils snub free swimming plan

Swimmers at Brockwell Lido
The government has offered 80m to fund the scheme

Councils in Dorset have rejected plans to introduce free swimming for over-60s by the London 2012 Olympics.

The government has offered 80m to fund the scheme and authorities had until last week to apply for cash.

But Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole and Weymouth and Portland councils have all snubbed the idea despite another 100,000 being offered locally.

The councils cited concerns over having to find extra funding and the effects on other pool users.

The rejections come despite Dorset County Council and Dorset Primary Care Trust stepping in with an 100,000 package to help persuade councils to join up.

Local decisions have to be made locally and it is not going to work everywhere
Chris White, Local Government Association

Councillor Mike Goodman, from Weymouth and Portland council, said: "The government scheme does not calculate the cost of additional users or commit funding beyond two years, putting council tax payers at risk to pick up the bill in future.

"It also does not fund free swimming in other pools which could undermine those services as well as discriminate against people in areas where pools do not qualify."

Councillor John Beesley, of Bournemouth Borough Council, said: "Our detailed projections show that the government funding offered would only cover half the costs of the scheme."

Poole council said it already offered competitive rates for swimming.

Christchurch council said it was worried people from nearby Bournemouth and Poole would descend on its pools if it decided to take up the scheme because there would no boundary constraints.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the plan would improve fitness among the older generation but accepted the councils' decisions.

Chris White, chairman of Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: "There are clearly some snags, like there is not really enough funding without making a hit on council tax.

"But it is not right for the ministry to say 'you do it in this way'.

"Local decisions have to be made locally and it is not going to work everywhere."

North Dorset, West Dorset and Purbeck councils have all backed the plan.

Nationally 300 out of 354 local authorities have confirmed they will offer free swimming to the over-60s between 2009 and 2011.

Free swimming scheme launched
08 Nov 04 |  Wales


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