Scouts warn of 'threat' from council rent rises

Scout doing abseiling. Pic from Scouting Magazine, via the Scout Association
Image caption The Scout Association said councils usually only charged nominal fees

The future of scouting is under threat due to "crippling" rent increases by councils facing government spending cuts, the movement has warned.

The Scout Association said at least 2,000 groups had been warned of rises that could lead them to cut activities, increase subscriptions or close down.

One scout group in Banstead, Surrey had been told their annual rent would increase from £135 to £10,500.

Local government minister Bob Neill said such rises were "unacceptable".

The Scout Association said it understood that councils were looking at new ways to raise money, but warned that increasing rents risked the valuable voluntary work scouts carry out.

Chief Scout Bear Grylls said implementing "enormous" rent rises - for buildings to hold meetings and events - was "completely counter-productive".

"These crippling rises jeopardise the future of scouting and the enormous amount of voluntary work we provide to communities week in, week out.

"We're not asking councils for money. We simply ask that they continue to recognise the importance of scouting in their area," he said.

Mr Neill, who is also vice-president of Bromley and District Scouts, said the scouts provided "an immense contribution to local communities across Britain".

"I agree with... Bear Grylls. It is unacceptable for councils to unilaterally hike charges on scout groups without consultation.

"This is a false economy, as without scout groups, local authorities and the police would end up spending more money on tackling anti-social behaviour and on paying for the services which scouts provide for free," he said.

In a further two cases cited by the Scout Association the 23rd Camberwell Group in south London faced a £7,000 bill this year having previously rented school rooms for free, and the 9th Watford Group's rent was going up from a nominal £7.50 to £650.

David Moreton, a scout leader from the 1st Raunds Scout Group in Northamptonshire, said the hourly rent charged to his group had risen by 50% in the last year.

"We have had to raise the costs we charge our beavers, cubs and scouts and also raise an extra £5,000 a year to cover these and other increased costs," he said.

"We know times are tough but all we want is a fair and reasonable rent."

The association has mounted a campaign against rent increases, pointing out that traditionally councils have only charged nominal fees.

Is your scout group's activities threatened by rent rises? Are you part of a voluntary group whose activities are threatened by rent increases? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

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