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Lessons learnt after free swims pulled, says Sparkes

23 May 2011

The Coalition Government’s speed in dropping free swimming took the ASA by surprise, chief executive David Sparkes has admitted – but he says the governing body has learnt a great deal from the reorganisation that followed.

"While the ASA was sorry to see the end of free swimming, and the inevitable consequence of losing valuable and committed staff, we have taken the opportunity to learn from the reorganisation so that it can become a better organisation," he said. "That shows the maturity of the ASA that it is prepared to learn."

The decision to pull the plug on free swimming removed a third of the £140m funding and led to ASA job losses, though many were re-employed elsewhere.

Mr Sparkes said: "There is no question that free swimming brought tremendous benefits. We now understand the market much better and the needs of the customers. It has brought us much closer to the pool operators and local authorities and the reorganisation has started to build a new, stronger relationship with the ASA regions."

He said the ASA needed to operate more as a team with the board and the senior management engaging earlier and working together to develop its programmes.

"In the excitement of being told the Government is to invest £140m in free swimming, we should have addressed earlier the risks in losing funding and the actions that we needed to take under those circumstances," said Mr Sparkes.

"We clearly did not appreciate the speed with which the new government would act after the election and perhaps for the future we need to be more responsive and be prepared earlier.

"The senior management team and the board need to consider their performance as a group and make sure they give themselves the time and make the right decisions in a timely manner with all the necessary risks assessed and appropriate emergency plans in place.

"The reorganisation itself needed more planning and the lack of planning caused us to struggle in the early days. However, once we got into reorganisation, an unexpected outcome was much stronger teamwork across the departments and a move away from “silo” thinking."

He said that restructuring inevitably causes anxiety among those affected and their friends so the ASA needs to "improve both internal and external communications on major changes in the business".

"The whole process, however, demonstrated the robust personnel policies which the ASA has now developed and everyone agreed that it was transparent and fair to those involved," Mr Sparkes added.

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