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Jones: Priority should be swimming lessons for children

Speech in the Welsh Assembly in a debate on free swimming

As my first major contribution, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those in Caerphilly and South East Wales that aided my election and to all those who voted for me.

Having recently experienced our education system, having a keen interest in Sport, having grown up in a rural farming community and having Youth on my side - I hope to draw on these experiences to bring new ideas to and to scrutinise the Government in our Debating Chamber.

On the face of it, this scheme sounds very beneficial to the people of Wales - but as is often the case, there are potential flaws that have been overlooked and which certainly need highlighting.

We all agree that promoting sport, in this case swimming, is a vital part of improving the health of the people of Wales. However, this scheme has been ill thought out and could be improved.

My foremost concern is that the Government has failed to protect Welsh businesses in this scheme.

A Leisure Centre in my constituency has lost a lot of money since the introduction of this scheme.

Having put aside 20% on top of its Budget to take in to account the numbers that would take up this scheme, they later discovered that they in fact needed to put aside 600% of their budget to allow for it. This is a huge difference.

After a recent meeting with Government Officials they discovered that an error of judgement in predicting numbers for what was a "new scheme" meant that they themselves would have to make up for the shortfall. This was highly detrimental for the Leisure Centre, and its users, as the money will have to come out of the money that was budgeted for Safety, Lockers and the general running of the Leisure Centre.

Having talked to many of my constituents about the introduction of this scheme - it became clear to me that there was a major flaw in it.

If the people of Wales are to get everything they can out of this scheme then surely it would have been more wise to introduce 'free swimming lessons' for the children of Wales, not just 'free' time in a swimming pool. Thus ensuring that our children use the time wisely that they have in the swimming pool and not - what is largely the case - for mucking around with their friends.

It is a sobering fact that on average every 17 hours someone in the UK drowns.

Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death for children. The safest place to swim or bathe is a beach or swimming pool protected by qualified lifeguards.

Of course, it is very important that children from every walk of life and from every corner of Wales have the opportunity to 'learn' how to swim.

A lot of our poorer communities in Wales cannot afford to send their children to have swimming lessons and many of our schools cannot afford the cost of hiring out a swimming pool for the day for its pupils.

Having free swimming lessons would be more beneficial in many ways. As well as improving the health of our nation that is already in dire straits, it would probably result in a lot less accidental water related deaths due to children being able to swim. I am positive that the children would feel that they were getting a lot more out of the scheme at the end of the day as well.

I propose that the Government take note of these amendments and what I have said here today - so that the people of Wales are able to get everything out of this scheme that they possibly can.

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