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Go West

November 17th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

Forget the North-South divide: down here in Sussex we are suffering from an East-West divide.  According to the Politics Show every council in East Sussex has signed up for the government’s free swimming for the over 60s scheme.  The programme is contrasting that with Kent, where 8 out of 13 councils have opted out, with one yet to decide.  A better contrast would have been with West Sussex where, as far as I know, every council has opted out.

So far 85% of councils have signed up for the scheme, but 100% of West Sussex’s councils have backed out.  Whatever reasons they give are not reasons – they are excuses.  The decision about whether to join in with this scheme is a political one, with the decision coming first and justifications sought afterwards.

The two main excuses reasons given are that there will be a small cost to the council and that over 60s from neighbouring districts that have opted out will pile in across the border to take advantage.  The second point disappears if the neighbouring districts are also taking part – so not a problem for most of the East Sussex districts except where they are adjacent to West Sussex or Kent, but that has not put them off.

As for the cost justification, in Crawley it has been worked out to be something like £40,000 I think.  This week the council has been crowing about saving £400,000 by changing the management at the leisure centre.  They could have settled for a saving of £360,000 instead.

In Horsham there is an additional aspect that does not really apply to Crawley, where there is a brand new swimming pool, and that is that joining the free swimming scheme gives access to a one-off capital grant for modernising swimming facilities.  The grant is based on the size of the over-60 population and depends on the council having modernisation plans. The total pot of grant money is something like £60 million over three years.  Even if Horsham has a lower than average over-60 population (which I doubt) it could easily more than make up for any notional loss in revenue in the form of a share of the capital funds.

It all depends on attitude.  If you really want to do it you will look for, and find, a way to do it.  If you don’t want to do it you will use that energy searching for excuses not to do it and that, unfortunately, is the attitude taken by the West Sussex councils.

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