Children in two fifths of England’s council districts will be denied the Government’s Olympics promise of free swimming.
The pool where the Olympic star Rebecca Adlington learnt to swim is among hundreds that will not offer free swimming for those aged 16 and under when the scheme begins in April because their councils claim that funding for it is not enough. Plans to offer free swimming to pensioners were rejected by 18 per cent of local authorities.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted that it was still its ambition to expand the scheme to everyone by 2012 as the centrepiece of a legacy of mass participation. The programme will be reviewed in two years when the guaranteed funding for under-16s and pensioners ends.
Councils said that achieving the pledge would depend on a massive increase in funding that may not be available in this economic climate.
Mansfield council in north Nottinghamshire is one of 143 local authorities to reject the funding offered for children. Its three swimming pools include Sherwood Swimming Baths, where Adlington, the double Olympic gold medallist, learnt to swim. It will offer free swimming only to pensioners.
Eddie Smith, the councillor who took the decision, said Mansfield “couldn’t fund over £400,000” to pay for the scheme. Its revenue from under-16 swimmers was more than £240,000 a year, he said, but the funding offered was only £49,002 a year.
Councils across the country criticised the funding structure, which was based on numbers of residents, not numbers of pools. Funding was offered to some councils that did not have a pool, while councils that did sign up to the scheme last year said that central government was leaving them with a shortfall that would require them to cut other services.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: “This is a partnership with local authorities and they may have to find revenues from their own budgets or other sources. It’s great that so many councils have shown they share our commitment to get those 16 and under swimming by investing in the scheme.”