CHILDREN need to learn to swim by the end of this summer term, a senior councillor has warned as cuts to school swimming lessons could take effect from September

A cut of around 8.5 per cent in the contract between Powys County Council and Freedom Leisure which allows schools to use sports facilities and swimming pools could come is part of the 2024/2025 budget proposals.

At a meeting on 30 Tuesday, January members of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee slammed the decision to cut just over £177,000 in 2024/2025 from the contract with Freedom Leisure - who run centres such as such as those at Bro Ddyfi Leisure Centre in Machynlleth – which is worth around £2 million a year.

A further £265,000 is expected to be found in the 2025/2026 budget.

Next year’s council budget is set to go up to £340.7 million.

The budget also includes £10.652 million of cuts, savings, and income generation that the council need to make to achieve a balanced budget by the end of March 2025.

Interim head of community services Jenny Ashton told the committee that the details of the cut still needed to be “work through and agreed” with schools.

Freedom Leisure also needed to get back to the council to “come up with options” to help achieve the savings target, explained Ms Ashton.

Ms Ashton said that the reason behind the proposal is to provide a “more equitable offer” for school pupils.

Lay member and former school headteacher, Margaret Evitts said: “We have no real understanding of the impact on children at the moment.”

She asked when would further detail would come to committee as that’s “very important.”

Newly appointed director of economic development and growth Diane Reynolds said: “All of these savings are interlinked with sustainable Powys and the leisure review.

“We’re trying to make sure it looks the same for every child and they get an equal opportunity to swim or exercise.

“It won’t take effect until the new school year, so we have time to work that out.”

Director for corporate services Jane Thomas added that some schools do an “excessive” amount of swimming and that the proposal this would “free up” access to sports facilities for the public at times usually set aside for school use.

Conservative group leader, Cllr Aled Davies said: “Public use during the day is difficult on some sites as they are so enmeshed within a school – I have my doubts that the pool and changing rooms would be available.

“I have real fears about this as there are so many unknowns.

“I would encourage all children to learn to swim by July and the end of the school term as we don’t know what’s going to happen after the summer.”

Education portfolio holder, Liberal Democrat Cllr Pete Roberts branded Cllr Davies’s “flippant” comments as “unhelpful scaremongering” and wanted to “assure parents” it wouldn’t be like that.

Cllr Roberts said: “I share officers’ confidence that this is an achievable saving, or we wouldn’t be looking at it.

“How to deliver the curriculum is a local choice for schools and we’ll do everything to support them when it comes to swimming.”

Finance portfolio holder, Labour’s Cllr David Thomas said: “If you’re saying this saving is not deliverable, I’d like to hear what alternative you'd like to put into the budget.

“In all probability there is no alternative and the only way you could cover the savings is by increasing Council Tax.”

Committee chairman, Conservative Cllr Gwynfor Thomas said: “I’m really disappointed by this. We hear words of equity but nothing about aspiration and that worries me.”

He sensed a “great deal” of discomfort amongst the committee members about the proposal.

“We’re really unclear what’s being proposed, how it’s going to be achieved and the outcome for the child,” said Cllr Thomas.

Comments from scrutiny committees on the draft budget proposals will be put forward to cabinet at a meeting later this month and the budget is due to be debated at a council meeting on 22 February.

Not for profit company, Freedom Leisure runs 13 leisure, sports centres, and swimming pools across Powys and was awarded a 15-year council contract in 2015 to run the facilities.