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Councils rebuff free swimming plan - again

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Two councils have rebuffed another government attempt to get them to provide free swimming, warning the controversial scheme would leave them in deep water financially.

Following the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s announcement that it was reopening applications for its scheme to part fund free swimming to over 60s and under-17s, Sheffield City Council warned that tax payers would have to stump up £1.45m over two years to cover the extra cost.

Cllr Sylvia Dunkley, cabinet member for culture, sport and tourism, said: “Nothing has changed in terms of what the government is offering. 

“As it stands local people would have to make a huge contribution which could lead to a higher council tax.

“Given the current economic climate I don’t think that large council tax increases are top of local people’s priorities.”

Nothing has changed in terms of what the government is offering

Sylvia Dunkley, Sheffield City Council

Sheffield set up its own learn to swim programme last December, which offers subsidised lessons for non-swimmers.

Cheshire and West Cheshire Council said offering free swimming to under 17s would have left it with an annual deficit of £150,000 - plus capacity issues within certain facilities.

According to the DCMS, four out of five councils are now offering free swimming to pensioners, but 67 local authorities have decided not to participate in the scheme at all.

Councils offering free swimming for both age groups will be able to apply for a share of a capital modernisation fund of £25m to build new pools, or renovate existing ones, in 2010-11.

Councils have until 8 September to indicate if they wish to participate this time.

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