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Free swimming scheme is axed as part of cuts programme
The Government's free swimming programme has been scrapped due to the unprecedented financial situation.

As part of £73m of cuts made by the Government, the scheme, which offered free swimming to under 16s and over 60s will come to a close at the end of the summer amid claims new research show it does not represent value for money.

"We are facing an unprecedented financial situation in this country, and it is essential that we act now to reduce the country's debt," said Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

"We have examined a number of schemes to determine whether they remain a Government priority, value for money, and affordable in the current economic climate. 

"This has involved some incredibly difficult decisions, but the cultural and sporting worlds, like everyone else, urgently need the country's finances to be returned to a sustainable position."

The scheme was launched in April 2009 and was heralded by then Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell as well as then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham as ‘a landmark moment in our bid to build a healthier and more active nation'.

But just a week after new Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson outlined his plans to introduce a new London 2012 legacy plan - citing the need to do away with what he called 'six-month initiatives' - the scheme has been shelved.

"This is not a decision that gives me any pleasure," said Robertson. "However, the research shows that the great majority of free swimmers were swimming already, and would have paid to swim anyway. With a crippling deficit to tackle and tough decisions to take, this has become a luxury we can no longer afford."

The news has not gone down well at the Amateur Swimming Association but chief executive David Sparkes insists swimming will still significantly contribute to the legacy plans of mass sports participation.

He said: "While we are disappointed to learn that Free Swimming will stop shortly, we recognise that in the current economic climate the government needs to prioritise its spending and in that regard we understand the decision."

"Free Swimming has brought many new people to swimming and has helped to drive up significantly attendances in pools and has made an impact to the activity target.

"We will now work with Local Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and pool operators to see how we retain these new customers and encourage more people to swim.

"We have learnt a lot from the Free Swimming initiative and we will now be seeking urgent meetings with both Sport England and the Department of Health to see how we can build on the legacy from Free Swimming to continue to grow swimming and encourage more people to be more active.

"Swimming remains the number one participation sport and also remains the one activity people will consider as they step up their activity levels.

"Swimming can and will continue to work with government to ensure that there is a lasting legacy from this programme and we contribute significantly towards the target of 1,000,000 more people more active in sport as a legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games."

The initiative was designed to benefit 20 million people across England with £31m allocated to councils to cover the cost, with a further £50m available to improve facilities.

The Government cash injection, announced in June 2008, was part of a promise to help get two million people more active by the time London hosts the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

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