The popular scheme giving free swimming to people over 60 in Cornwall is under threat after Council leaders refused to say what would happen when the current round of funding runs out in early 2011. Liberal Democrat calls for a guarantee that the scheme would continue were refused by the Conservative/Independent administration during today's meeting of the Council.
With my Shadow Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing hat on, I asked Council bosses about the scheme and how popular it had been. The cabinet member responsible for leisure admitted that free swimming - introduced under a Liberal Democrat administration with Government funding - was extremely popular with more than 28,000 free swimming sessions taken during the first three months.
I then asked if the scheme would continue after the initial period of Government funding expires in March 2011. However the administration refused to provide such a guarantee.
I fear that the Conservative led administration is preparing to axe this scheme despite its overwhelming popularity and the obvious health benefits that it brings for local residents. Whilst the Conservatives and Independents are preparing to increase their own pay, they are happy to cut popular services for older people.
I understand that budgets are tight at the moment but this is a scheme which costs nothing in itself. I know that many hundreds of local people have started swimming because they know that they can do so for free. At a time of life when so many people are taking little or no exercise, surely we should be seeking to extend this scheme rather than threaten it with closure.
I think that Cornwall's swimming pools are facilities that we should be proud of and getting more people into. I would like to see the free swimming scheme expanded in due course to under 16s as well as over 60s. Unfortunately, it appears that the Conservative led coalition is more interested in penny pinching than guaranteeing popular services that local people enjoy and which bring huge health benefits.