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Free swimming reduced after WG cut

CHANGES to the way free swimming is allocated across Carmarthenshire and Wales comes into force next month following a reduction in funding from the Welsh Government.

Cuts in the overall budget will affect the number of free sessions available at council-owned leisure centres across Wales including Llanelli, Ammanford, Carmarthen, Newcastle Emlyn and Llandovery Pool.

Carmarthenshire County Council is currently reviewing its timetables, along with Sport Wales which distribute the funding on behalf of the Welsh Government.

There still will be free sessions for young people every weekend with additional ones in the summer holidays. Pools will also be offering some free and possibly subsidised sessions for over 60s.

According to Sport Wales, young people and people over the age of 60 from areas of deprivation will be the priority under new national objectives.

Questioned about the cut in the Senedd by Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “When the scheme was first introduced in 2004-05, over 800,000 swims took place by young people under the scheme. Last year, it had fallen to 126,000. And yet the number of swims by young people has gone up in Wales over that period. So, the idea that, by removing the scheme as it currently stands, it automatically leads to the unintended, and, as I see it, not to be realised consequences, doesn’t stand up to examination. More people under the age of 16 are swimming in Wales than ever before, and yet fewer and fewer and fewer of them were taking advantage of the free-swimming initiative.

“The money that is not being devoted by the sports council of Wales to this scheme is being spent by them instead of a series of healthy and active fund projects.

The revised free swimming initiative aims to attract people who face the most barriers in accessing a pool the chance to learn a life skill and to swim more frequently.”

The changes follow an independent review, commissioned by the Welsh Government after findings showed the current scheme was no longer fit for purpose. The report concluded that the current approach was not cost-effective, nor did it make the biggest contribution to increasing levels of activity. It noted that the number of young people benefiting from the scheme had been in significant decline since 2013-14.

The report also mentioned that only 6% of the target population of over 60s age group currently access the programme.

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Carmarthenshire County Council’s executive board member for leisure, tourism and culture, Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths said: “These nationwide changes are disappointing, however, we recognise the benefits that swimming can play as part of a healthy lifestyle and remain committed to providing free swim sessions. As a county, we are still delivering more swimming sessions than what is required nationally.”