Free swimming initiatives for the U16s and over 60s will be hit by a cut in regional funding.
An independent review for Sport Wales, the organisation that advises the Welsh Government on sporting matters, found the ’Free Swimming’ initiative only costs half of the £3m that the Welsh Government pays even though councils have become increasingly reliant on the grant because of overall budget cuts.
As a result changes have been introduced with the government reducing the budget and focussing the scheme on youngsters and the over 60s from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children under 16 and adults over 60 have enjoyed free swimmimg since 2003 with Sport Wales managing the scheme.
Nick Butler, Leisure Centre Manager with Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) said it was early days before any impact on their free swimming provision could be assessed.
Currently, under 60s have free swimming in term time, and u16s enjoy free swimming during the holiday at MCC Leisure centres across the county.
“The NRG members - junior fitness sessions - who have free gym and pool access will not be affected and all our discounted routes into swimming, such as pupils on free school meals and those on benefits will remain,” he said.
Cllr Richard John, Cabinet member with responsibility for MonLife - who deliver leisure, youth and outdoor education amongst other things on behalf of MCC - said “I’m very disappointed with Welsh Government’s announcement that they are effectively scrapping the free swimming scheme for Monmouthshire, as it has existed for nearly 15 years.
“We constantly hear about the obesity timebomb in the UK and the need for people of all ages to lead more active lifestyles, enabling them to enjoy a better quality of life.
“Many thousands of children and older people across Monmouthshire have enjoyed free swimming over the years – it’s a great life skill and so beneficial for both mental and physical health.
“The Welsh Government has revised this commitment at very short notice and officers are still waiting for approval of plans for future arrangements which are due to commence in early October.
“As a council we recognise the importance of younger and older people being able to swim at our four leisure centres – that’s why we’re spending millions of pounds upgrading them.
“Over the coming days we will be considering how we can ensure that our leisure services remain accessible to everyone in Monmouthshire, including those from less well-off backgrounds.”
“This has been a challenging period for the leisure team in Monmouthshire regarding swimming and they will soon be communicating both the reduction of the scheme by Welsh Government to the general public and also explain the revised programme and consequences.
“The service will do it’s best to focus on the new scheme in a positive fashion, engage with new targeted communities and try to maximise use of swimming pools.
“Communication of the revised plan will be done through front of house teams and notices over the coming weeks.”