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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Llan county councillor slams cut in free swimming

* County Cllr Graham Timms.
A cut in free swimming at leisure centres across Denbighshire has been branded "cheap politics" by a Llangollen county councillor who is now demanding a reversal of the move.

The council has blamed a cut in Welsh Government funding for a decision yesterday (Tuesday) by its cabinet to make reductions in the free swimming programme.

But this has prompted an angry response from County Cllr Graham Timms, Labour member for Llangollen.

He said: "Welsh councils were given £3m grant for free swimming provision for children and over 60s. A report produced last year showed that the actual cost of all the free sessions was only half what the Sports Council had paid out. Source: 

"The report estimates that the actual cost of providing the free swimming is only £1.5million, but this has not been mentioned by the Denbighshire Cabinet. They simply pointed out that because a grant had been reduced by 25% they were going to reduce the number of free swimming sessions. 

"The health and wellbeing of residents is supposed to be one of Denbighshire's proprieties. It seems odd that such a cut in a vital provision is being made without a proper information being considered by the council. 

"It is cheap politics and does not report the full facts, which shows that the grant funding is double the actual cost of the provision across Wales. Denbighshire Leisure needs to assure us that the take-up in the county is double the national average before it can start looking at such a damaging cut. 

"It is cheap politics to reduce a vital benefit for Denbighshire when we should be encouraging more people to get active. If Denbighshire genuinely has twice as many free swimmers as the Welsh National average then this should be celebrated and the extra £20k is well worth it. I am calling on DCC to halt this reduction and let's have a grown-up debate rather than cheap politicking. 

"Incidentally, the Cabinet yesterday approved how they were going to spend an extra £1.388 million on vital school maintenance. This was extra money from Welsh Government but no press release has been issued about this good news story even though it is nearly 700 times as much money as the free swimming grant reduction."

The press release issued yesterday by the county council on the free swimming issue says:

"Denbighshire County Council has made changes to its free swimming programme following a reduction in funding from the Welsh Government.
"Since 2003, Denbighshire Leisure has received annual funding from Welsh Government to provide free swimming sessions for children and customers aged over 60. 
"Overtime there have been reductions in the amount of funding made available, but a combination of strong performance and sound financial management, has allowed us to consistently provide more than the minimum level of activity required by Welsh Government. 
"Welsh Government recently announced that from October 2019 they will be launching a revised Free Swimming Initiative, which will include a new set of national objectives, but will also mean a 25 per cent reduction in the level of funding received by Denbighshire Leisure for the current financial year, and a 50 per cent reduction from April 2020.
"Cllr Bobby Feeley, Lead Member for Well-being and Independence, said: “We are very disappointed in this reduction and the effect it will have on our programme.  We have expressed our dissatisfaction in the strongest terms to Welsh Government and have done our best to negotiate a more favourable outcome, but to no avail. 
“The revised initiative will be launched on October 1 and regrettably, we will therefore have no option but to reduce the amount of free swimming activity offered from our leisure centres. 
“We have reviewed our free swimming programme and made every effort to ensure any funding to be received will continue to provide the maximum activity possible.  Our revised programme for the remainder of the year will be delivered slightly differently by each centre.  Free sessions will be clearly marked on centre timetables and staff will be happy to answer any questions customers may have.
“Over recent years, Denbighshire Leisure has been one of the few local authorities to invest heavily in its swimming provision and we have carried out a number of refurbishments on our pools and changing areas across the county. We see swimming as an integral part of the corporate wellbeing agenda of Denbighshire County Council, contributing to the health and fitness of our residents.  We will continue to offer existing benefits, such as free swimming in public sessions for all children who enrol in our swimming lesson programme.
“Once again, we can only reinforce how disappointed we are at this reduction in funding and the effect it has had on our programme.  We apologise for the short notice given for these changes; we have only just received confirmation of the funding, which has given us a very short window to inform our customers of the changes. However, please be assured Denbighshire Leisure will do its best to continue to invest in its facilities and deliver an excellent service to customers.”
Free Swimming for Under 16’s
1 Free Family Swim Session at each pool during the weekend. Children are free with a paying adult or free if swimming alone over the age of 8.
2 free public swim sessions at each pool during the summer holidays. 
Free Swimming for Over 60’s
Each Centre will run one free Aqua Aerobics session each week. All other Aqua Aerobic sessions will be charged at the current rate of £4.80 per session for peak classes or £3.00 for off peak classes.
Each pool will also offer 5 hours of free swimming each week. Other designated sessions will be available at a reduced charge of £2.50 per session. Please see the timetable at your local centre for details.  Please remember for those who swim regularly with us we offer a monthly swim pass for £23 per month by Direct Debit or £29 per month if paid by cash."

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