Free swimming returns for old and young

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ALONGSIDE a series of cuts, amounting to a £15m reduction in Portsmouth City Council’s budget, council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson announced the city’s over-60s and under-16s will be allowed to swim for free.

The scheme, which will cost the council £100,000, comes at the same time as 184 jobs will be cut in an attempt to save cash in the face of government cuts.

But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We’re bringing back free swimming in Portsmouth, to improve health and safety across the city.’

The Lib Dem council leader explained: ‘This isn’t a high-cost strategy. It works out at a cost of 50p per person, and for a comparison, it would cost us £150,000 to replace one lift in the Civic Offices.

‘So for a third less, we’re getting a policy which benefits people across our city, and improves people’s lives in the short and long term.’

The city council introduced free swimming for people aged under 16 and older people aged 60 and over in 2008, using government grants of £80,000 per year to fund the scheme.

But it was forced to withdraw the initiative, which ran at Eastney Swimming Pool, St Luke’s Community Sports Centre and the Mountbatten Leisure Centre, last summer, when the new government cut the funding.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The benefits of the scheme are obvious. Firstly, for older people, it’s an excellent way to keep fit, and it’s a social activity, where they can meet people and take part in sporting activity. It could even save us money, as if people are fitter and healthier, they are less likely to need to enter the healthcare system as early.

‘And for youngsters, it’s just basic common sense. We are a city surrounded on three sides by water and young people must be able to swim for reasons of their own health, security and safety. With this policy, in a couple of generations, no-one should be unable to swim.’