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New policy to tackle growing number of private swimming instructors

A new policy is to be introduced by Armagh City and District Council to combat the growing number of swimming instructors making use of the Orchard Leisure Centre’s facilities to run their own businesses.

In many cases too, it has been pointed out that parents believe that the lessons being undertaken are actually provided by Armagh Council.

The decision was taken to introduce a new policy, along the lines of that adopted in July by Banbridge District Council, after it considered a report presented at a recent meeting by the council’s own leisure facilities manager.

Cllr Sylvia McRoberts (UUP) said it was very important that the council took measures to protect itself.

DUP Cllr Gareth Wilson asked if private swimming teachers paid for use of the pool and was told that, if teachers were stopped at reception, they did pay for the swim, but if they passed reception without stopping they did not.

The leisure facilities manager explained that in some cases parents were not paying for their children’s swim either.

Cllr Gerald Mallon (SDLP) suggested that tutors be contacted in relation to the issue.

The Strategic Director of Corporate Services and Governance Sharon O’Gorman explained that it was possible that some parents may believe these lessons were being provided on behalf of the council and that council was satisfied that they met all standards required from council employed instructors.

The leisure facilities manager’s report revealed that the Orchard Leisure Centre currently offers a comprehensive swimming lesson programme of 55 group lessons per week, catering for approximately 585 children. Classes are available for all abilities, ranging from total beginner right through to basic lifeguard courses and are run every afternoon, Monday to Friday, and Saturday mornings.

But over the past 12 to 18 months, it had become apparent that an increasing number of private individuals were taking 1-2-1 lessons, four or five days a week, with fees of between £10 and £15 for a half hour being charged, and making use of the Orchard Leisure Centre pools to run their own private business.

On speaking to officers in Craigavon and Banbridge, the leisure facilities manager reported that they were experiencing the same issues.

Banbridge District Council introduced a policy at the end of July on ‘Private Instruction on Council Premises or Sites’, which states: “Users of council premises or sites (whether for payment or otherwise) are only permitted to provide private instruction in specialist activities e.g. sport, exercising, fitness and swimming where; 1. The user has the specific permission of the council and council are reasonably satisfied that the activity is properly regulated and controlled;

“Or 2. Where the instruction is given within the confines of a family relationship i.e. given by a close family member and where the activity and instruction are carried out safely.

“Council reserves the right to prohibit private instruction on any of its sites or premises where such activity is taking place and the conditions (above) are not being adhered to.”

In order to ensure that the policy statement was enforceable legal advice was sought, which clarified: “Should anyone breach the rules after they have been agreed and published then it will certainly be in order for management to ban individuals, if that is the only way of being sure that an individual will not break the rules.”

Looking at the implications of the current situation, councillors were informed in the report that swimming/coaching provided by private individuals was completely unregulated.

There was no evidence that the individuals are; Properly and formally qualified; Properly covered by public liability insurance; and Compliant with child protection regulations in the case of under 18s or vulnerable adults.

It was pointed out that, if an incident or accident occurred involving private instructors and/or their pupils on council premises, then the council may be in a difficult position, particularly if it is aware the activity is being undertaken unregulated.

The leisure facilities manager’s report states: “We do currently have individuals who hire our facilities at various locations to provide instruction e.g. martial arts, gymnastics, and dance. They pay us, the council, approved rates for these facilities and also provide us with the information listed above.”

The council has now agreed that, to do nothing would see the number of unregulated lessons taking place continuing to increase, and would only serve to exacerbate an issue that is already causing problems.

As with any other coaching in council facilities, the council is obliged to ensure that those providing instruction are suitably qualified, and that all statutory obligations are met.

It has decided, therefore, to adopt the same policy as Banbridge District Council, which would allow the council to regulate and control private individuals providing instruction.  As we move towards a single Council it will help harmonise policies between the RPA councils.

The policy on the Control Of Private Individuals Providing Instruction On Council Premises / Sites would be displayed at the Orchard Leisure Centre and other venues.

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