John Marsden from Vivacity tells Paul Stainton from the BBC why free swimming has gone, and why it won’t be coming back again in the near future. Broadcast at 07:29 on Wednesday 4th August 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
STAINTON: It looks like free swimming won’t be returning to the city any time soon. Labour’s free swimming scheme was axed by the Coalition two weeks ago. We talked about it many times on the show. Linda (parent) thinks Vivacity who runs the city’s pools should reinstate the scheme. (TAPE)
PARENT: Me and my two children are regular users of the local swimming pools around Peterborough. But now I can’t see myself or the children going as regular as what we did in the past, because we can’t afford to go, maybe three times a week, for eight pound ten a time. (LIVE)
STAINTON: Yes. Well John Marsden is Head of Sports and Leiesure at Vivacity. Good morning John.
MARSDEN: Good morning Paul.
STAINTON: Can you understand Linda’s concerns?
MARSDEN: Yes I can and I can share that disappointment because obviously this Government announcement came quite late in the day. And unfortunately local authorities who participate in the scheme and had previously received the grant suddenly found themselves in a position where the scheme had to be cancelled because the funding was withdrawn.
STAINTON: A lot of other authorities though John are doing their bit to keep some aspects of the scheme going. Why aren’t we?
MARSDEN: Well that’s quite interesting actually, because there has actually been some national research conducted over the last couple of weeks to find out what local authorities are doing, and although it is fair to say there are a small number of local authorities that have continued it for the summer period, the vast majority have had to cancel it. What I would say is in Peterborough we do have some of the mitigations that we put in place to try and reduce the burden on families.
STAINTON: What have you put in place?
MARSDEN: Well for example we have what we call our Active Card scheme, which does provided discounted access to our facilities.
STAINTON: Fifty p off swimming.
MARSDEN: And holders of that .. I mean for example it means that a junior swimmer can swim at the Lido for two pounds instead of two pounds sixty.
STAINTON: So sixty p off. How much do these cards cost?
MARSDEN: Well the cards are free to children under sixteen years of age, and then for over sixties they cost eight pounds fifty per annum. What we’ve also done as another example is at the Jack Hunt swimming pool in Peterborough for the over sixties we have a scheme there, our Gym and Swim scheme as we call it, that for a relatively modest fifteen pounds per month that provides access to people to the gym and the swimming facilities at all times.
STAINTON: So OAPs on fixed incomes, not very big rises in pensions or anything, they’ve got to find an extra eight pound fifty to go and swim? It’s not going to happen, is it?
MARSDEN: Well the eight pound fifty is a cost for the Active card, and that is actually a one off cost.
STAINTON: And that’s a cheaper way of doing it you say.
MARSDEN: Yes it is. It’s a much cheaper way of doing it. Yes.
STAINTON: And then they’ve got to pay every week as well on top of that, so it’s …
MARSDEN: They then have to pay their admission fee to swim. But as I say we’re very disappointed that the funding was withdrawn, because it was planned that it would continue until the Thirty First of March next year.
STAINTON: Yes. This is very popular, hugely popular, free swimming for the under sixteens and the over sixties John. Can we not divert some money from somewhere else. I’m sure people would vote for it.
MARSDEN: I’m sure they would, and we find ourselves in a situation like any organisation where we are cash limited. We try and provide really good value for money services. We just simply cannot close this financial gap to allow us to continue the scheme at this moment in time. So we tried to put some interim measures in to lessen that burden. I think it’s also fair to say that there were some local authorities nationally that didn’t participate in the scheme whatsoever.
STAINTON: Yes but we found ten just by having a look round quickly really, that were extending the scheme.
MARSDEN: Yes. There are a number that have extended it purely for the summer holiday period.
STAINTON: So free swimming is dead in the water in Peterborough?
MARSDEN: I am afraid that at the moment it is. Yes.
STAINTON: John, thank you for that.